I have been reading through Luke 2, the story of Christ Jesus’ birth. This time, I have been reading it differently. Instead of reading the story as one-dimensional black-inked-words on white pages, I have been trying to imagine what it would have been like to be a first-hand observer as the event unfolded.
While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (Luke 2:6-7)
I imagine that the streets of Bethlehem were noisy, and obviously crowded, if there was no room at the inn. Technically, there was room at the inn, but no one was willing to give up their accommodations for a poor young couple. If I had been there, would I have offered up my own room? Or would I have just pretended to not notice?
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock at night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. And so the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)
I imagine it was a routine night for the shepherds. After a long day in the fields, the sheep were corralled and settled in for the night. Perhaps the shepherds had gathered around a fire for warmth, exchanging small talk while keeping their eyes opened for any sign of threat to the flock. And all of a sudden…they were not alone! An angel stood near them and they were surrounded by the glory of the Lord!
I know they were frighted, because the first words the angel spoke to them were “do not fear.” If I had been there, would the fight or flight reflex kicked in? Would I have jumped to my feet, ready to run, regardless of what the angel said? Or would I have been captivated by the glory of the Lord, unable to move? Was the sky lit like daylight? Or was it a heavenly, indescribable glow? Did they realize that they - humble shepherds - were the first to be told that the Savior of the world had been born?
And then, before they could even comprehend the words the angel had spoken to them…
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army of angels praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom He is pleased.” (Luke 2:13-14)
A multitude of angels appeared…praising God! Were the skies filled as far as their human eyes could see with glorious angels? What did they angel’s look like? What did their voices sound like?
When the angels had departed from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem, then, and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us. (Luke 2:15)
Oh, the conversation the shepherds must have had after the angels departed! They needed to make plans! They needed to hurry to Bethlehem! While I am not familiar with travel back in those days, was it even possible to travel at night? Or were they prodding the sheep at daybreak, hurrying the livestock in the direction of Judea? How long did they have to journey? Did they dare tell anyone along the way what they had experienced? What had been told to them…the fulfillment of prophecy?
And they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen Him, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it were amazed about the things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:16-18)
I visualize the shepherds, unkempt and smelling unpleasant, bustling through the crowds in Bethlehem, looking for the stable. What kind of reaction did their presence cause within the city? Disgust? Eye rolls? Did they stop and ask the inn keeper for directions? Did they tell anyone the reason they were there? Were they followed by curious observers?
And then they found the stable…and there was The Baby, wrapped in clothes and laying in a manger!
Did they fall to their knees before the Christ? Speechless? Overwhelmed with emotion as they gazed on the long-awaited Messiah?
How long did it take for them to find their voice? To tell Joseph and Mary about what had happened in the fields? About the angel proclaiming the birth of their Savior! Being surrounded by the glory of the Lord! The heavens filled with praising celestial beings!
And those that overheard the shepherds, did they have business that brought them near the stable? Or were they the curious onlookers that had followed the shepherds? Were they common folk? Or people in high standing and position? Or were they men of authority, present to make sure the shepherds didn’t cause trouble?
Was their amazement at the message the shepherds proclaimed? Or did they roll their eyes, self-righteously, amazed that the angel of the Lord would choose to tell lowly shepherds such world-changing-glorious news?
But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.
Mary. Highly favored by the Lord, she knew she had been chosen to conceive, carry and birth the Son of the Most High. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult the days had been. Whispers behind her back about her pregnancy. Did her close friends believe her? Or did they, too, shun her? Her life, as well as Joseph’s, had been turned upside down by God’s unconventional plan. Yet they were obedient and willing. Then there was the long journey to Bethlehem and searching for a place to lay their tired and weary heads. While Mary was righteous and faithful, was she familiar with the words of Micah that prophesied the One, the ancient of days and eternal ruler, would come from Bethlehem? Did she know the appointed time had arrived? That she would labor, alone, surrounded by animals? And then the birth…and finally holding the Child close to her breast. While she held the Word of God in her arms, could she even begin to comprehend what it all meant? Would anyone else believe her son was the Messiah?
Since Mary pondered these things in her heart, I imagine that the words of the shepherds confirmed in her heart that what she already knew was now was becoming known to others: Emmanuel, God was with us and among us.
After the shepherds left, what was the reaction of those remaining? Were there gawkers? Folks coming by to just see Jesus? Did they scoff at the idea that the Messiah had come in the form of a babe and not the expected royally-robed king?
And I wonder…
How did that one holy night in Bethlehem change the lives of those who were there? Those who heard the Good News?
Did those at the manger return to their normal lives, unaffected, or did they go and tell others?
Did the shepherds return the fields and tell the news to others every chance they got?
Did the inn keeper ever make room for the new mother, father and Christ child? Did he regret turning them away in the first place? Or did he tell the news to everyone who stayed at his inn?
As we celebrate this Christmas Eve, my heart is stirred. My life was changed because of that one holy night over 2000 years ago. I want to share the Good News! No…I must share the Good News!
For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!
Emmanuel, God is with us!
The greatest gift ever given.
The greatest gift you can choose to receive.