What happened that first Christmas

My kids were working on coloring some Christmas scenes.

“What color was Mary wearing when she had the baby Jesus?” my youngest daughter asked.

Her oldest sister did not hesitate a second. “Blue,” was her reply.

“Oh yes, that’s it,” the younger one agreed.

They seem to know more than I do. The information from Luke 2 is pretty scant about what happened that night. All we know for sure was that they were traveling and, after having the baby, laid him in a manger. We don’t know much about the inn where they sought refuge; we don’t even really know if they were rejected there, or if Joseph poked his head in and said “Cripes! Standing room only! This is no place to have a baby!”

We just assume they were in a stable, because it says they put Jesus in a manger. But there are mangers outdoors. And some biblical scholars say there were mangers inside houses too, to feed nearby animals, and that could be a possibility. And many kept animals in the many caves outside Bethlehem.

While having a baby in a stable was probably pretty unusual for the time, it certainly is not the most unusual place babies have been born. Compared to the side of the road, which I assume was a real possibility, a stable is quite nice.

We don’t know if there was a donkey Mary could ride on. We don’t know what they ate, or where they found it, or if a midwife attended the birth. We don’t know if there were three wise men or four wise men or more, and they most likely did not arrive on the night Jesus was born, but much later.

Jesus’ birth was not that unusual for the time, I suspect. So what distinguished Jesus’ birth? It is these verses, given to the shepherds outside Bethlehem: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

“And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men.”

(Incidentally, I was singing a song that included these words, and my two-year-old son looked at me knowingly. “That’s Charlie Brown,” he said. We might be watching too many Christmas specials this season.)

Angels came –that’s the difference between Jesus’ birth and the rest of ours. They came, declaring joy and peace.

I don’t know that here has ever been a time that peace has existed on all the earth. War is always going on somewhere. And while happiness can come fairly easily (for me all it takes is a cup of warm cocoa), true joy, which starts in your gut and fills your whole body with the divine, is more elusive, and usually only comes to us once in a while, never on demand, and only if we are one of the lucky ones to have enough peace to feel it.

But that was the message of the angels, and that was the message of Jesus—though his message was also that joy and peace come through him. He was the savior.

As Longfellow put it:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Merry Christmas!


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