Many of our modern-day Christmas traditions have been born out of sheer merchandising. Considering Jesus’ anger expressed in the temple over the money changers’ swindling the people, I can’t help but wonder how He feels about how we celebrate His earthly birth. With that in mind, drawing on my imagination of the Biblical account of the first Christmas, I’ve sought to better capture the awe and majesty of that wonderful night.
Imagine the bitterly cold night. Imagine Joseph’s devotion to God demonstrated by caring for his betrothed wife, Mary who is nine months pregnant—soon to give birth to the long-awaited Messiah. The nearly sixty-five mile trek from Nazareth to Bethlehem was much more difficult than Joseph had expected. As he walked leading the colt Mary was riding, he glanced back at her. She is truly beautiful…and brave. Joseph vividly recalled the angelic visit several months before, when he was informed his betrothed, Mary, was the virgin the prophets of old foresaw, who would bear a Son to be called Immanuel, meaning God with us. Joseph secretly wondered if he could be as brave as Mary. He contemplated what their life would be like in the years ahead. It’s natural for a husband and wife to raise children. But this child is the Son of God… Joseph immediately shook his head as if to toss off any fearful thoughts.
Joseph and Mary fighting the night elements, and exhausted from their travel, very much needed to find a place to sleep the night. Pulling his tunic tighter to ward off the cold, Joseph took comfort and quietly breathed a sigh of relief at seeing the lights of the town ahead. Certainly, Mary is even more fatigued than me, and she’s begun having labor pains.
After many attempts to find lodging, they were finally given permission by one innkeeper to make their bed in his stable. Exhausted and suffering increasing pain, Mary was overcome with gratitude they had any place to lie down.
Joseph gently helped Mary down from the colt and helped her over to a corner of the stable where she could sit propped up by the rough and weather-worn wood. He needed to prepare the stable—to improve the area somehow so she could give birth and they could be as warm and as comfortable as possible.
Would this be a long night of labor? Of course, neither Joseph nor Mary knew. Gratefully, Mary’s time with her cousin, Elizabeth, had helped prepare her. Elizabeth, much older than Mary, was six months’ pregnant with her first child when Mary arrived. Mary’s heart swelled with gratitude for her cousin protecting her. As a young woman betrothed to Joseph, his family had already paid Mary’s family for this prearranged marriage. Mary’s eyes filled with tears, grateful that she was sent away to safety. Had either family learned that she was pregnant before the marriage ceremony… She couldn’t bear to think of what could have happened.
As younger women, both had helped other kinswomen in the birthing process, serving as mid-wives. Unique to conversations among women, Mary and Elizabeth spent many late-night hours discussing and reviewing all that they would need to know to experience successful births. She wished her cousin could be with her now. Right then, a strong and surprising gust of warm air encircled her. She smiled taking comfort in knowing God was near. She closed her eyes and pondered the visit from the angel Gabriel nearly nine months before. The Angel told me this child would be the Son of the Most High, and that we were to name Him Jesus. Joseph told me that the angel who visited him confirmed that this child is to be named Jesus. How strange that the angel used the Greek name, Jesus, instead of the Hebrew equivalent, Yeshua… Before she could consider this further, she was overcome with the onslaught of another contraction, which she managed through without making a sound.
Joseph had done a fine job rearranging the hay and putting out blankets for them to sleep on. Just before he turned around to help Mary over to the bed, Mary let out a quiet, suffering moan. Turning to see her, Joseph saw Mary’s face grimace with pain for the first time. She truly is beautiful and brave. Taking a few steps toward her, he bent down and lovingly carried her up and over to the prepared bed. Gently laying her down, he did what she asked to help comfort her. As the labor pains increased, so did the bond between Mary and Joseph. Mary knew that Joseph had no experience birthing babies. That was a woman’s role. Considering they had not yet consummated their marriage, she couldn’t bear the idea of Joseph helping. God You will have to help me. As a modest woman, I ask that You not require Joseph to help… Oh, how I wish my cousin Elizabeth, could be with me now. During the intense rhythmic surging labor pains, Joseph held Mary’s hand and prayed.
The innkeeper’s wife had noticed Mary’s condition when they first arrived. She herself had had three children, none of which were easy births. She took pity on the young woman and gathered all the things necessary to give maximum comfort and make for a successful birth. Approaching the stable with the supplies and the warm glow of a lamp, she called out to her guests. “Peace be with you in the Name of the God of Abraham.” Consistent with proper customs, Joseph replied, “And peace be with you who graces our presence.” He said this to indicate that the innkeeper’s wife was most welcome. She spoke again, “If you allow me, I’d like to be of help It’s important for our family’s reputation that you are treated hospitably, no matter the conditions.” Independently and in thought only, both Mary and Joseph thanked God for sending a human angel. Joseph motioned her in.
Mary was exceedingly glad to have the help of the innkeeper’s wife, despite the fact her hands were so rough. She oversaw keeping the inn clean, caring for all the animals, and cooking all the meals for their guests and family. This was not a woman of pampered leisure. As stern as her mannerisms were, her heart was just as compassionate. Mary felt a fresh sense of security in the capable care of the innkeeper’s wife.
Mary muffled any cries of pain, but even so, Joseph knew the pain was far greater than she revealed. After what seemed to be an inordinate amount of time, the babe finally emerged, safely into the hands of the innkeeper’s wife. Next, above the sounds of the lowing cattle and the cooing of doves, the precious first sounds of the baby’s voice were heard. That’s when the sky lit up!
At that very moment, a good distance away, some shepherds were in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flocks of sheep, when an angel appeared to them! The men were greatly afraid and the sheep instantly startled and scattered. But as the angel spoke, an inexplicable peace and calm hushed over them. The angel said, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
The shepherds left the sheep to the herd dogs, and with haste sought to find the baby. And when they found the baby lying in a manger, they made known to Joseph and Mary all that the angel had said to them. All who heard wondered what the words meant. But Mary treasured these things and pondered them in her heart. After a time, the shepherds returned to their flock, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard, all they had seen, and all that had been told them.
With the baby newly born, the innkeeper’s wife and shepherds now gone, Mary and Joseph gathered close to one another and the newborn infant, in silent adoration. The sounds of the animals in the stable, the gentle breeze of night air which had warmed, and their surroundings illuminated by the warm glow of the lamp, to speak would ruin the atmosphere.
Could this be what happened that very first Silent Night?
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
My prayer for you and your loved ones is for this Christmas to be a time of intentional consideration of what the Lord has done to radically demonstrate His love for you. May this story encourage you to reestablish your family traditions around the true meaning of Christmas, to be among those with whom He is pleased.
Imagination based on Matthew 1 & 2 and Luke 1 & 2
Points to consider:
Both Mary and Joseph had to be uniquely brave as the earthly parents to care for the long-awaited Messiah. What do you imagine Joseph went through learning that his betrothed was pregnant? What do you think he went through learning that Mary was pregnant with the Son of the Most High?
In a Middle Eastern rural community at this time in history, for a young betrothed woman to be found pregnant, and especially not by her fiancé, could easily result in an honor killing, which would have ended the life of the baby in her womb. Could Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, about a hundred miles away in Judea, have been a desperate attempt by Joseph, or Mary’s family, inspired by God, to save her from this fate—to get her out of the way until some solution had been worked out?
Could the angels’ instruction to name the baby Jesus, have been a clue that the Messiah was not the Savior of the Jews only, but also for Gentiles who will believe?
Do you think that the Christmas story is a time-honored fable? Many people wrongly think so. But there is a tremendous amount of historical extra-biblical writings, and archaeological discoveries that support the claims of the Bible. Jesus is who He claimed to be—the Savior of the world. If you, or someone you love, does not believe in Jesus as their personal Savior, I contend it’s because not enough time or effort has been expended to discover truth about God, humanity and all creation. God exists. He loves you with an everlasting love. He has made a way for you to be eternally restored into a right relationship with Him and all that is good. Why not reconsider Jesus this Christmas season?