Christmas Eve Meditation:
Things were pretty bad that night. Rome’s heavy hand was in evidence everywhere: The soldiers were arrogant, demanding, and sometimes brutal. And then there were the corrupt government leaders, with the paranoid and murderous Herod at the top. His chief appeal to Rome was the merciless efficiency with which he was able to extract taxes from the people. The taxes were exorbitant, and many suffered. The religion of the day had become an oppressive burden of rules and regulations and empty ritual. Cheating, lying, robbery and worse had become the norm for many. Qualities such as compassion and kindness and love were all but non-existent.
The town of Bethlehem was packed with uncaring visitors. None of them were there because they wanted to be – They were there because they were required to be, and they resented it. They were there to pay their taxes; to support the corrupt, uncaring, oppressive government, and the arrogant, occupying soldiers and their empire.
The trip to Bethlehem itself had been hard and tiring. It had taken three days to get there from Nazareth…just to pay taxes. Mary was beginning to feel the pressure of birth pangs…and she was nervous. She was far from home, far from her mother and sisters, and unable to find a place for some much-needed rest. Joseph had tried and tried to find a place – He’d gone all over town, explaining desperately that his wife was about to have a baby. But no one seemed to care, and they kept getting turned away.
Mary began to wonder – Was her baby going to be born on the roadside….or in an alley? Wasn’t this the baby the angel of God had said would be the Son of God? What was going on?
Finally, one innkeeper had told Joseph, “Look, I know it’s not much, but there’s
the stable out back. You’d have some privacy, and it’s out of the weather. I’m
sorry, but this is the best I can do.”
The smell in the stable was strong, and there were flies, but at least there was straw for Mary to lie on, and it was warmer than the alley. As he was trying to make a comfortable place, Joseph was wondering, “What is going on? Where is God in all of this? Did we do something wrong? Has he forgotten or abandoned us?”
Joseph and Mary looked at each other, and each saw the uncertainty and fear in the other’s face.
Before I read further, let me ask you -- Have you ever felt that way and asked those questions? You know – The way they look in picture books and in artwork – Mary is pictured as being so sweet and calm and young; and Joseph is older, but he’s also calm, and strong, and dependable and reassuring. And I will submit that they are the Mary and Joseph we want them to have been. But, they are probably not the Mary and Joseph who really were.
We need to understand this, because it’s important: The birth of Jesus Christ, from a human point of view, is a profound, even intense story about trusting in God in the face of and in the midst of multiple adversities. These were marginal people, in an occupied country, coping with a difficult situation the best they could, and experiencing uncertainty and fear. And, although none of us here are experiencing the degree of difficulties these two faced, there are times in our lives when we’re not sure what’s going on or where God is, and we wonder if he’s forgotten us. And we struggle with uncertainty and fear.
The story continues: In the midst of that dark and lonely time…the baby was born…a beautiful baby boy. And as Mary and Joseph looked at Him, the promises were remembered. And, just as Mary had gotten cleaned up and somewhat comfortable, and the baby has been wrapped in the cloths to keep warm, some shepherds came, asking about the baby…whom they referred to as…the Savior.
The shepherds were very excited and saying something amazing – While they were outside, keeping watch over their flocks, an angel of God had visited them. At first, they had been terrified, but the angel had said, “Don’t be afraid.” And the angel told them about the baby, and told them how to find the baby. And so, in spite of their uncertainty and fear, here they were. After spending some time talking with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds went right down the main street of town, shouting and telling everyone about the angels and about the baby…the Savior – Christ the Lord.
Mary and Joseph looked at each other, and then at their son. God had not forgotten them. He was right there with them and He always would be.
What was true for Mary and Joseph is also true for us: Part of the Good News of Jesus Christ and His being Immanuel – God With Us – is that, whenever we come to those dark and lonely and difficult places of life, we have One who identifies with us and understands – He was born right smack in the middle of times like that.
And it didn't stop there! During His lifetime, Jesus encountered the same trials and temptations you and I face. Think about that. All of us have a desire to be understood – We need a friend who can identify with us and empathize with us. And Jesus is that Friend.
When people don’t understand you, He understands.
When people make fun of and mock you, He understands.
When you’re not accepted and you feel left out, He understands.
When you’re treated unfairly, He understands.
When you’re tired and don’t feel like you can go on, He understands.
When those you love most let you down, He understands.
When you’re confronted with temptation so strong that you feel like you won’t be
able to resist, He understands.
When you’re frustrated and angry, He understands.
When you’re sad and lonely, He understands.
When you’re anxious and doubtful, He understands.
When you feel disappointed or betrayed, He understands.
When you stand at the grave of someone you love, and your heart breaks and you cry, He understands.
Listen – You have not been abandoned. In the midst of whatever darkness and uncertainty and fear you may be experiencing, you are not alone. Jesus said to His disciples, “Lo I am with you.…Always.”
You know – The Christmas message is a message of God’s love for us and His coming to us. But, I have to tell you: The message doesn’t mean anything if it’s not personalized. What I means is – God loves YOU, individually. Jesus Christ was born to be YOUR Savior. He suffered and died on the Cross to pay the penalty for YOUR sins, and He rose again so that YOU could be forgiven and restored to God.
And He calls on YOU to make a personal response. He calls you to turn from your sins, and make a commitment of faith/trust in Him as Lord and Savior. And when you do that, He will forgive you and give you eternal life and make you one of His own. And when you do that, this Christmas will truly be a time to celebrate and be merry. If you want to find out more about this, I invite you to see me after the service tonight.