Posted 2 years ago

The Christmas story of the birth of Jesus is told and retold time and time again in the run-up to the big day. I so love seeing the younger children dressed up as characters in the nativity play at school or in church. The Crib Service on Christmas Eve in All Saints Church certainly is a highlight for me as it is for so many of you; a time to focus on the real meaning of Christmas and enjoy the excitement of the children (old and young alike).

But as I have begun to prepare for the various services, carol singing events and the teaching that I shall lead over the festive time, it has occurred to me that the story that seems so familiar and comforting was anything but that at the time when it occurred. rather than familiar it was strange.

A young woman, a virgin, expecting a baby! A man agreeing to marry her knowing that the baby was not his, because of an angelic visitation. A long journey imposed for tax purposes on the people of Israel. No room for family when the couple arrived in Bethlehem. The crib for the baby the manger where the animals fed. Another visitation by an Angel, then a multitude of angels singing their hearts out to shepherds on the Bethlehem hillside. Shepherds, who at that time were considered insignificant people, on the edge of society, chosen as the first witnesses to the birth of the Messiah - God's chosen one. Then, later, wise men from the East, who studied the stars and who had followed the star such a distance arrived in Jerusalem, and approached King Herod thinking that the child born to be King would be found in the palace (not an unfair assumption). Wise men, who were not of the Jewish race, with the revelation of the Saviour's birth.

The whole story is very strange and almost unbelievable, except that there are clear accounts written close to the time of much of what happened, and the Christmas story is at the heart of the Christian faith which has been passed from generation to generation for over 2,000 years. How strange that the God and creator of the universe would be born as a vulnerable human baby, to grow up and live his life as an example for us, and to die on the cross so that we might know just how much God loves his people. For most of us this is beyond understanding, mind-blowing, or at the very least difficult to believe.

The birth of Jesus in a humble place 2000 years ago might seem a strange gift but it is the best gift anyone can receive. Just like some of the gifts we might receive, he wasn't professionally packaged or announced with fanfare of trumpets for everyone to see (well except for the Angels to the shepherds, if they had trumpets?). He was given as a gift of love, quietly and almost secretly, to be received and enjoyed when the gift was discovered. My prayer this Christmas is that we all receive and unwrap the gift of love in Jesus Christ, that is ours to discover.

The best thing about the gift of Jesus is that he is with us and for us every day - so every day has the flavour of Christmas. Life might not be all bright lights and parties - it rarely is - but Jesus is the one who was born in strange and difficult circumstances, lived life through difficult times and knows how hard life is for many of us. No longer the baby in the manger, Jesus is alive for us and to us, the friend who will walk with us, or just be with us in the difficult times. Jesus - the best gift we can receive at Christmas or any time of the year.

Mary said 'Yes' to being the mother of Jesus. Joseph accepted his responsibility in protecting the baby who was to be the Saviour of the world. The shepherds believed the message of the Angels and went to find Jesus. The wise men embarked on a long, tiring and costly journey to prove what they thought they had discovered; the truth of Jesus. As we all celebrate Christmas, let's remember the strange story that has become oh so familiar and discover afresh the truth of Jesus, Emmanuel - God with us.

The times and dates of all the Christmas services are printed in the Village Voice, on posters around the villages and in the Christmas card that I hope will be delivered to every house in Belton & Burgh Castle. All it leaves me to do is wish you a Happy Christmas.