Familiar words filled the room as we gathered around the birthday cake to hear the story once again. These are words so familiar, that I know them all by heart. I could have told the story myself. Actually, anyone of us in the room that night could have recounted this story from memory, I’m sure. We have heard this story our whole lives, even from before we could speak ourselves, I venture to say.
Well, now I must clarify that “our whole lives” is saying something quite different for each one in the room this night. You see, four generations were gathered together to share the story and to celebrate this occasion. Ranging in age from ninety-two to two years of age, hearing the story one’s whole life takes on a different perspective depending on the age of the hearer.
And yet – and here’s the remarkable thing – this story – this age old story, is fresh and new and full of wonder every time it is told, every time it is heard, whether the hearer is two or ninety-two. It’s not like there’s a surprise ending or last-minute plot twist or anything unexpected like that. The story never changes. And yet its power and pull never diminishes with time but always accomplishes God’s purpose with each telling and retelling of this sacred story.
“so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)
And so we all listened to the story of the birth of the Messiah, as my Aunt (the ninety-two year old) told it with us gathered around the “Happy Birthday Jesus” birthday cake while she read the Christmas story to her children, my children, her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren. With the familiarity of the words comes comfort and peace, then awe at the orchestration of the events, marvel at the mystery and the miracle that is the Christmas story, joy at the arrival of our Savior and hope with the realization of why He came here.
Comfort, peace, awe, a marvelous, miraculous mystery unfolding, bringing joy and hope, light and life – all this is contained in the telling of the Christmas story. And what a story it is! It is full of mystery for one thing – just how does the Word become flesh? And how does a virgin conceive a child? And miracles – it is a story filled with miracles. Angels talking to shepherds and to Mary and to Joseph and a mysterious star appearing, leading the Wise Kings. Prophesies coming true and angels singing. It is a story that never gets old. (even though we do)
As I listened to my Aunt tell the story this night, I realized that no matter how old I get, I never outgrow the Christmas story. It remains relevant, it remains riveting. It is the story of the greatest miracle of all time, that God loved us enough to send us His Son, Jesus, even though we did not love Him and in fact, had turned our backs on Him.
“But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given, . . . And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. . . . The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (Isaiah 9:6 & John 1:14)
The story of this miracle, the Christmas story, is a story filled with courageous people. Each person called to be a part of this Christmas story was courageous and obedient to carry out their part in history’s greatest happening. Take Joseph, for example,
“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.’ ” (Matthew 1:19-21)
Mary also courageously obeyed after having this conversation with the angel –
” ‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. . . . For nothing is impossible with God.’ ‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” (Luke 1:34-38)
The shepherds showed courage in the face of their fear. Consider their part in this story –
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (did you catch that? – they weren’t just scared, they were terrified) However, the story continues –
“But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’ ” (Luke 2:8-14)
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (Luke 2:16-18)
The shepherds had the courage to do as the angel said and they found the baby Jesus, who is the Savior, who is Christ the Lord, just as the angel told them they would. Then the shepherds courageously spread the word about what they had seen and heard. They were the first tellers of the Christmas story and even then this story was received with amazement.
It is a story we are still telling today. A story of a loving God keeping His promise to a rebellious, sinful nation of people. Consider Simeon’s part in this story. Simeon was a member of the nation to whom God had promised a Redeemer. Simeon believed God and had been waiting faithfully to see this miracle take place in his lifetime. We read his part of the story in Luke –
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, You now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.’ ” (Luke 2:25-32)
Simeon understood that the Christmas story is the story of a long awaited miracle. After the shepherds’ visit, the drama continues with the appearance of three Wise Men on the scene.
” . . . Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’ ” (Matthew 2:1-2)
So much intrigue and mystery in this part of the story. Who are these Magi? Why have they left their homes to follow a star? Why do they believe that this baby born in a stable to poor parents is a king, that they should worship Him and bring Him expensive gifts? We don’t know their backstory, but we know what they did.
” . . . they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.” (Matthew 2:9-11)
Here the story of Jesus birth draws to a close leaving the shepherds back with their flocks, filled with wonder at all they had experienced, including the angel’s visit and the serenade they received from the heavenly host filling the sky and praising God, and the Wise Men ready to return to their distant lands. As my Aunt finished the story of the first Christmas, I realized this is really just the beginning of the journey. This story starts with a baby in a manger, it passes through Calvary’s cross and ends with victory in an empty tomb!
Turns out, the Christmas story is the story told in John 3:16 –
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
sincerely, Grace Day