The first Christmas wasn’t quite so merry. It wasn’t a Hallmark card. Have we really thought about what happened?
It began with old Zacharias and his aged wife Elizabeth. Godly? Yes. Loving God and his people? Yes. But also disappointed. They had no child and their time had passed.
It continued with a young virgin in Nazareth of Galilee. Nazareth? Can any good thing come from Nazareth – a small backward village in the hills of Galilee, never important, never a destination for anyone of note? She received word that she would become the virgin-bearing mother of Messiah, and believed. How wonderful! But not everyone believed.
She told Joseph and his heart broke. How could Mary be unfaithful to him? Discussions with the rabbi, decisions to be made. Should Mary be stoned? His beloved? No, he would quietly send her away, to another Jewish community in the ancient world where she would bear her shame quietly. Mary, helpless, pure, innocent, and completely dependent upon God to vindicate her.
Then, a 75 mile donkey ride from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for Roman taxes. Why won’t the Romans just leave them alone and leave the land? Their swords and hunger for hard-earned Jewish money were everywhere.
Shepherds watching their flocks at night. Appearances of angels. A baby’s cry in Bethlehem. Presenting Jesus in the temple with a poor man’s sacrifice of doves. Then words of praise. An old man, Simeon saying, “He is the One.” An old prophetess Anna shouting for joy in the Temple and pointing others to him. It was time to leave Jerusalem. They were too close to Herod’s palace for such things to be said out loud.
Finally, peace and quiet. Things settling down. Perhaps it was time to return to Nazareth – a slow, peaceful leisurely journey back home would be welcome. But then strangers from the east with a different language and thick accents stopping in Jerusalem and asking questions about a new king being born, and Herod is very interested.
Cunning, deception, plots, and preparation for murder. Herod schemes and waits as the worshipers of the East present their gifts to the Child. More deception – the Magi take a different route home and do not return to Herod. He is enraged.
“Mary! Joseph! Quickly! Take the Child and flee!” the angel says.
A journey in the middle of the night. Rumors of soldiers approaching. Hiding in the dark. The long road exile in Egypt for holy family begins. But weeping is in Bethlehem. Mothers weeping for their children who are no more.
This was the first Christmas. Not Hallmark cards, not snow angels, not pretty lights. But appearances of angels, miraculous conceptions, scandalous rumors, surprised shepherds, prophecies in the temple, travelers from a foreign land, deranged tyrants, and staying one step ahead of death.
This is the world into which the Savior was born. It is the greatest story ever told. It is still being told. Its story continues through us as we take his word to a world full of evil and darkness and shine his light upon the darkness. Deranged tyrants still fume and plot and murder. Angels still fight. People still doubt. God uses old men and women, and young men and women. He works in obscure villages like Nazareth and mighty cities like Jerusalem. And through it all he brings his kingdom which will prevail over all the kingdoms of the world.