This is exactly what it looked like
I’m putting together a Christmas reading, and thought I’d sort of test it out via the blog. Naturally, it’s a little difficult to get the real effect — it’s meant to be read live — but, hopefully you get the idea. I’d love to get feedback, since I have time to tinker (at least until the 24th).
For four-hundred years God had not spoken. And Israel was waiting for a Messiah. An Emmanuel. Think about this: four-hundred years. It would be history that no one could remember and they could only read about and would wonder: will God ever act again?
[Spotlight on Speaker]
Then the brutal Roman regime issued a decree, a census. Everyone had to go to his own town to register. A man named Joseph, a builder from the backwater town of Nazareth, had to travel to Bethlehem. He took his fiancée, who was pregnant. But she wasn’t pregnant from him. She told him that the baby was from God. Joseph was going to divorce her, because even engagement was like marriage in those times, until his dream about Mary. Maybe this baby was from God. Maybe God, after four-hundred years, was beginning to act again.
In Bethlehem, there wasn’t any room at the inn. So Joseph and Mary stayed in a stable. Stables were often caves, and they were dark and dirty places. Here, among the reeking animals and their refuse, Mary gave birth. Here is where God makes his entrance to the world. Among the lowly, among the dirty, among the darkness. Mary wrapped the baby tightly in cloths and laid him in the manger, which was probably a feeding trough carved in the cave wall.
[Person begins lighting candles in front]
We read that as God brought Jesus into the world, a star appeared. This star marked the birth of Jesus. God began to shine a light in the darkness. And thousands of miles away, a group of wise men, maybe astrologers, saw the star. They recognized its importance and began a journey to Bethlehem.
That same night, just outside of Bethlehem, there were shepherds living in the fields. They smelt of sheep and fields and wildness; they were unsophisticated, uncivilized, unexceptional. But that night: that night, an angel appeared to them. The story says the glory of the Lord lit up the dark night sky around them. And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for everyone.” He said, “Today, in the town of David, in Bethlehem, a Savior, a Christ, has been born to you.” The angel told them they’d find this baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
Before they could go, a whole host of angels appeared. This isn’t 20 or 30 angels singing a pleasant chorus, but hundreds or thousands of angels filling night the sky, filling the silence with praise, filling the darkness with light. They sang, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” And the shepherds, they would’ve had no doubt that the Lord was acting again. The dark night sky was filled with light. Another writer says that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
[Lights slowly up]
So these shepherds run off to find the baby Jesus. And thousands of miles away, these wise men, these Magi, pack their camels to find the baby Jesus. I can hear the conversations: the hushed and hurried voices, like if you speak too loudly this magical spell might break. But it wasn’t a spell and not magic in the modern sense. The shepherds, and later the wise men, found exactly what they were looking for, exactly what they’d been told. Imagine what this would have been like: the smell of the stable mingling with the smell of the shepherds. Their eyes wide in wonder, transfixed by a baby’s cry. God himself, the Creator and King of the earth, born into the dirt and discomfort of a stable, worshipped by simple shepherds. God put on flesh and bone and moved into the neighborhood. He brought his light to the darkness.
And we come every year to remember this: a light has come to shine in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. We gather to celebrate a miraculous birth, a Savior, and a light.