On a quiet night in Bethlehem, a curious plan was about to unfold. It was God’s plan. And just like any complex and moving story, it was a plan with moving characters and moving parts. It involved angels and shepherds and women and men; it spanned over decades and throughout generations. It was a story set in motion since the beginning of time, and each piece played its part, up until now.
But on a quiet night in Bethlehem, the plot was about to shift. The heavens gave way and the world held its breath, as God’s ultimate plan played out in the most humble of places, in the most humble of forms: a baby boy, a virgin birth, and the outskirts of an inn. This is the Christmas story.
The night Jesus was born, he made Mary a mother. She was young and tired, but not afraid; Joseph, her soon-to-be husband and step-father to Jesus, was noble and faithful to both Mary and God. They had traveled to Bethlehem all the way from Nazareth, for Caesar had called a decree for a census. The journey was long and hard for them both, but they arrived just in time for Mary to give birth— to a healthy baby boy.
This is how Jesus was born: painfully and regularly, with straining and hardship. Yet, the pain was all but forgotten the moment it ended—both the long journey there and the labor that followed. Mary’s heart filled with wonder as she cradled him in her arms. He was warm and pink and tiny. Jesus was perfect and oh so fragile. On that quiet night, she swaddled him with cloths and placed him in a manger. Sheltered from the world, and sheltered from the cold, the miracle of his birth was seemingly hidden. Jesus’ first cries were heard only by Joseph and Mary. His forehead was kissed by only their lips.
But the climax of a story is never downplayed, and Jesus is the climax of God’s story to us. Because despite his humble entrance into our world, Jesus’ story wasn’t hidden nor his presence overlooked. The whole world would soon know of his name. As he lay asleep in the manger next to Joseph and Mary, all the parts of God’s plan fell into place.
Because in fields far away, on the outskirts of town, there were shepherds keeping watch of their flocks. During the night, when it was dark and idle, they heard a booming voice. The shepherds turned from their flocks, and behold—a man. An angel. The glory of the Lord shone around them, and the shepherds were terrified. They were blind for a moment, and fell to their knees. They were unable to speak.
But the angel spoke to them, saying: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
He had barely finished speaking when the sky broke open once more, cutting the darkness and wielding bright light. A great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
And just as suddenly as they came, all the angels left. It was quiet once more. The shepherds, still trembling, peeled themselves from the ground and gazed in amazement. The previous moments seemed just like a dream. They stared at each other, unable to speak. Then, they decided in unison, the only probable choice: “Let’s go to Bethlehem, to see what has happened, to see this thing that Lord has told us.”
So they fled from the hills and stumbled in the dark, cutting through thistles and rocky outcroppings. With each passing step, their anticipation grew. The city was closer and closer.
When they arrived to the city, Joseph was awake. He heard their knock on the door and their shuffling footsteps. But he clenched his jaw and prepared for a fight— for, who would be coming at this hour? He glanced towards Mary and the baby, still asleep; then Mary woke up and gave him a quizzical glare. “Who’s there?”
The shepherds spilled into the room, recounting their journey: The angels. The singing. The baby. The manger. They were frantic and frenzied, praising God with shouts and cries. Their gaze settled upon Jesus, and an exclamation was made: “Messiah!” Mary held the baby in her arms, and pondered these things in her heart.
On a quiet night in Bethlehem, God’s plan played out in the most humble of places, in the most humble of forms. For God so loved the world that he sent his one and only son—Jesus.
Jesus: who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but instead emptied himself, by being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, would later humble himself even further, becoming obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. God entered the world as a baby boy, to later die and save us from ourselves: our broken, imperfect, messed up selves. It was a plan set in motion since the beginning of time, involving angels and shepherds and women and men. And you. And me.
Jesus is the climax of God’s story to us.
This is the Christmas story.
[[ Though some creative liberties were taken in the creation of this narrative, this story is true, and can be found in greater detail in chapter two of Luke’s account of the gospel. See also chapter two, verses five to eleven, of the book of Philippians. ]]
Merry Christmas, friends. Jesus, our hope and our treasure, has come.