The Story of Christmas
The stars were beginning to appear in the ever darkening night sky. As they twinkled above the Judean hillside, the coolness of the soft, dusky air enveloped the slightly hunched figure of a tiny young woman as she inched her way forward. The donkey on which she was riding was dependable and remarkably sure footed. For this blessing, her new husband breathed a silent prayer of thanksgiving, as he led the lowly beast along.
With almost fatherly concern, Joseph noticed how the animal side-stepped potholes, stones and low-lying branches that sought to block their path or trip them up on the way.
The soft clop, clop, clop of the donkey’s hooves on the packed earthen trail produced a mesmerizing effect upon Joseph. Without warning, his mind began going back over the whirlwind of events which had brought him and his new bride to this moment in time and history.
“In my wildest dreams, I could never have imagined the occurrences of these past days!” he thought to himself. “The prophets of old were right when they recorded in the Old Testament writings, that God’s ways are higher than our ways.”
Joseph caught his breath as he reminded himself of a promise he’d made many years before. “I will always give Jehovah whatever He asks of me. Surrender is the only way to experience true joy and satisfaction in this life.” Like the unrolling of a scroll, his mind continued on in its involuntary replay of thoughts and images from his past. Some of the memories evoked such raw emotion that he found himself, all at once, blinking back tears and offering praise to God for Divine intervention!
With a pang, he relived again the bewildered feelings of hurt and betrayal he had experienced not too many months before, when Mary had come to him with the startling news that she was with child! It had all seemed so preposterous, that his beloved Mary could have been unfaithful to him. And, Praise God, preposterous it was indeed! “For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost,” according to the angel.
Now Joseph was smiling as he walked along. “Imagine me, being visited by an angel!” he thought to himself and half spoke aloud, as his sandaled feet continued to plod along the narrow, winding trail. “God is so good and so great! I will praise Him all my days!”
It was at this moment that he sensed Mary stirring, as if trying to get his attention, even though he had presumed her to be resting, perhaps even dozing off at times. His thoughts were interrupted by her strained voice, weakly speaking his name. Quickening his steps, Joseph was at her side within seconds. “Yes, my love, what is it?”
“The pains…they’re getting stronger and closer together, Joseph. How much longer before we reach Bethlehem?” she asked, under obvious duress. Joseph’s mind raced. She hadn’t told him her pains had started. “How long have they been going on?” he asked anxiously.
“For awhile now. I… I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to worry you,” she stated, rubbing a hand over her swollen belly. “I had no idea the birthing process had already begun,” Joseph thought, chiding himself for his lack of experience in such things.
Instantly, he was overcome with feelings of protectiveness, wishing he could somehow ease her pain and shield her from experiencing any more discomfort. These emotions brought another memory to his mind: after the angel’s revelation telling of God’s eternal purpose, Joseph had felt much this same way toward Mary, when he had chosen to proceed with marriage plans, in spite of how some people were gossiping about her.
Getting back to matters at hand, Joseph heard himself say, ”We are almost there now, my love.” Meanwhile, he was trying his best to quell the sudden, rapid beating of his heart. Rounding a bend in the trail, Joseph pointed toward the south.
“See over there? Those are the lights of Bethlehem.”
Lifting her eyes to view the soft glow of firelight, nestled into the foothills of the approaching horizon, momentarily refreshed her. Ironically, and unbeknownst to the other, Mary and Joseph were both thinking the same thought at that precise moment. “It would be so much easier if we could have stayed in our home in Nazareth instead of having to travel at a time like this. However, we had no choice. The law of the land commands us to go to Bethlehem to pay our taxes. We must trust Jehovah. Whether we understand it or not, God’s timing is always right.”
Settling herself for the remainder of the journey, as best she could, on the bony back of the donkey, Mary began recalling the astonishing events of recent months.
“Beginning with my cousin, Elisabeth’s pregnancy in her old age, I have been privileged to either witness or participate in one miracle after another!” she marveled. A sense of awe came over her, once again, as she remembered her own encounter with the angel, Gabriel.
“Coming face to face with an angel from heaven was so humbling, especially for me, just an 18-year-old, common village girl!”
As if in a trance- at least for a few moments- Mary was no longer riding on the back of a donkey. In her mind, she was transported to an earlier time and place. All at once, she could picture herself sweeping the floor in her father’s house, on that hot, dusty afternoon. After turning around from placing the broom in the corner of the room, she was startled to see Gabriel standing before her. “Why am I being visited by an angel? How did he get here without being detected? Where are the other members of this bustling household? I am just the lowly handmaiden of the Lord. What does he want from me?”
A thousand questions crowded her mind, but instead of voicing them, she wisely chose to simply ponder it all in her heart. When Gabriel opened his mouth to speak, she found his message more troubling than his presence.
“Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.”
“What is he talking about? I’ve done nothing great. What does all this mean?” Mary thought to herself, still continuing to hold her tongue, uttering not a word. Sensing her unsettled state of mind, Gabriel continued, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. Because thou hast found favor with God, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forh a son, and shall call his name Jesus.”
By the time the angel had finished revealing to her the eternal will of God set from the foundations of the world, Mary had relaxed. Her first response now was one of total surrender. At this point, she only felt the need to ask just one question: “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin, and know not a man?”
Gabriel’s answer is recorded in Scripture: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Just as a miracle was performed in Elisabeth, even so a greater miracle shall be performed in you. For with God, nothing shall be impossible.”
Recounting these miraculous events as she bumped along the steep, winding trail caused Mary to release her fears and surrender herself anew to Jehovah God. With Him in control, she had nothing to fear.
In spite of a long, difficult journey, once again, Mary exulted. “My spirit hath rejoiced in God, my Saviour. In His presence, I find such comfort and peace.” She smiled to herself, as she thought, “Praising the Lord always lifts the load and lightens the burden!”
It was unclear exactly how much time elapsed while Mary was so enthralled, reminiscing over God’s goodness to her. She couldn’t tell if her pains had temporarily subsided, or if it had just seemed that way, because she had been so focused on her Lord in the stillness of that starry night. Whatever the case, she was brought back to the reality of the moment with a jolt of searing pain tearing through her body. All of her life, she had heard stories about “the way of women,” in the process of giving birth. Very soon, she would experience these things for herself. Even Joseph could see that it wouldn’t be long, now. He breathed a sigh of relief because they had finally reached the outskirts of Bethlehem.
“I’ll find us a nice, comfortable room, my love. We’ll be there soon. You’ll see,” he reassured her. All the while, he felt his own heart beating wildly in his throat.
Scouting out the city as they entered the main thoroughfare, Joseph was encouraged to note that all the inns appeared to be located in one general area. “No doubt, to make it easier to gain the business of travelers unfamiliar with the town,” he mused.
Hurrying along, Joseph rushed up the steps to the first one they came to, only to be turned away just as quickly, by a “No Room” sign posted in the window.
Time was getting short. Down the road they continued, Joseph trying first this inn, and then that inn, all to no avail. It seemed the same sign was posted in every window. By now, they were nearing the edge of town. In desperation, Joseph approached the last inn.
Striding quickly to the front door, his spirits momentarily lifted when he observed the absence of a “No Room” sign in the window. Rapping loudly several times finally produced a grumbling voice from the inside.
”I’m coming. I’m coming.” After what seemed an eternity, the door slowly opened and a crippled old man carrying a candle stood before him. Nervously, Joseph stroked his partially-graying beard. “We just need one room, sir. Nothing elaborate. It doesn’t have to be big. You see, we’ve looked…”
“You can’t be serious!” the old man interrupted. “With all these people flooding this town during the time of taxation? I rented my last room hours ago.” With that, he turned to go.
“But sir, my wife is about to give birth. She’s exhausted from the journey, and…”
The transformation happened before his very eyes. The old man’s spirit immediately softened. His eyes moistened. Something Joseph had said struck a chord with him. Far away in his memory, from his early days as a young husband, an image of a fragile little woman surfaced in his mind. The poor thing died in childbirth. It was something he never quite got over.
Hobbling down the steps, the innkeeper pointed around the side of the building. Now the old man spoke in a thoughtful, almost wistful tone: “Well…it’s not much, but do you see the barn yonder across that little meadow? The hired hands cleaned it- just today, in fact. I’ll tell you what. You take the little lady over there. Make her comfortable, and I won’t charge you a thing. No siree, not one shekel, That’s the least I can do!”
Everything after this point happened so fast, it was all a blur. Joseph didn’t have time to explain. It wasn’t necessary, because Mary didn’t ask. She just knew. God had prepared her heart to accept His will. It may not have been what they had expected, or even hoped for, but it was still God’s provision. Mary didn’t worry. She believed Jehovah God. She knew all these things would work together for their good.
How much time did it take for them to cross the meadow? How long was it before Mary was resting comfortably on a soft bed of fresh hay, in an empty cattle stall? How long before the nervous animals in the barn relaxed and welcomed these unfamiliar newcomers into their midst? No one knows for sure, and it doesn’t really matter. All that mattered now was that the God of Creation was about to give the world the unspeakable gift of His only-begotten Son.
Very soon, the stillness of that starry night would be shattered by the lusty cry of a baby boy destined for an old, rugged cross. Very soon, an angel would be announcing His birth to the shepherds. “And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
This miraculous, virgin birth had the power to change the course of human history and the destiny of every man. Mary’s heart rejoiced in the knowledge that she, a lowly handmaiden of the Lord, had been chosen to be a part of God’s wondrous plan.
What did all these things mean? Why did God choose to send His only Son to a sin-cursed world to live among us? How could the eternal God of the heavens dwell in human flesh? How would this child whom Mary had physically delivered, one day bring about her spiritual deliverance? Even though the miracle of the virgin birth of the incarnate Son of God had happened in her, Mary could not explain it. She still had more questions than she had answers. Just like the rest of us, she, too, must accept it all, by faith. Mary’s life had changed dramatically in a short period of time. All the changes gave her a lot to think about. However, she didn’t worry or fear. The Scriptures say she simply “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
You know the rest of the story. The shepherds came immediately to the manger. In time, the wise men arrived after their long journey. The atmosphere in the stable that night was rife with the pungent smell of hay, mixed with other barn odors. The donkeys could be heard braying, and the cows, softly mooing. Even the animals sensed that something extraordinary had taken place.
It was a peaceful scene. With her beloved husband nearby, and her newborn baby nuzzling at her breast, Mary was content. What more could she want? She didn’t need a room in a fancy inn, or any other material possessions. God had blessed her with the richness of His presence. He had given her the only things that truly satisfy. Once again, focusing on the goodness of Jehovah, Mary gratefully acknowledged, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.”
May the message of that first Christmas, so long ago, bring the same peace and contentment to our hearts. Let us not look to material possessions or things of this world to satisfy. May we, like Mary, although unworthy, realize that Christ Jesus is all we really need. He is enough.
From my heart,
Your Pastor’s Wife
Read the Christmas story, and meditate upon what your life might be like, if Christ had not come. Cultivate a thankful spirit by dwelling on God’s great blessings to you and your family. Matt. 1; Luke 1-2
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“Wisdom…shall give to thine head
an ornament of grace.”