The first Christmas
My poem about the first Christmas with a large dose of reality
In this poem I want to help you think about what the first Christmas was really like and how important it is to all of us. This is God Almighty come down to taste our life and to save us. As Charles Wesley put it "Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man."
Babe in the manger
You lie on the prickly hay
Protected by the strips of cloth
Around you wound.
That Mary has saved from old underwear.
The cow nudges you,
As she digs in
For a mouthful of hay.
And yes you do cry,
Because you are a healthy,
Human baby and they all cry.
On your tiny breaths
Hang the destiny of the world.
Emmanuel,"God with us,"
In a dung-filled cave,
Your only protectors
A young woman,
And a carpenter.
God has entrusted His Son
To these two humble folk,
Who take you from the filthy stable
To a house in Bethlehem,
Once the census crowds have dispersed
And made room for the King of kings
To have humble,
But cleaner shelter.
A humble start for the Man-God
Who always lived humbly
And with utter determination
Made His way over thirty- three years
To the cross of His destiny for us.
I wrote this poem to try to get a true picture of Jesus' first days in the stable at Bethlehem. There is usually too much tinsel and glitter about the story, whereas the stark facts are about a young mother giving birth in a dark cave, sharing it with domesticated animals and so having a certain amount of dung present. I can imagine Joseph clearing a corner for Mary and putting down hay for her on that first Christmas. It is not the sort of place a midwife would recommend today, although of course in various parts of the world babies must still be born in these conditions.
Jesus always identified with the poor and humble and such was his birthplace. This picture shows the "fully human" side of His nature. Later He will show His disciples the "fully God" part, but for now we see Him weak and dependent on Mary and Joseph. He is a human baby with the needs of a human baby for food and warmth and love. Fortunately Mary does not have to rely on bottled milk. Her milk in these conditions is always better than the most sterile of bottled milk.
A terrible time
There were other dangers for the baby too. Herod the king was not best pleased to hear from the wise men that there was a new king born. I'm going to suggest to you that Mary and Joseph stayed in Bethlehem for some time. Herod asked the wise men when they had seen the star declaring the baby's birth. I believe their answer led him to believe that the baby might at this point have been two years old. Why else would he have ordered the death of all boys two and under.This is indeed terrible and not a happy Christmas story at all.
When the wise men went to visit Jesus it is said (in Matthew 2) that Mary,Joseph and the baby were in a house. This is rarely pointed out. We know that there were three gifts for the baby, gold, frankincense and myrrh, and not a rattle to be seen. Strange gifts indeed for a baby, but they spoke of His kingship, priesthood and sacrificial death. This has much more the feel of an Arthurian legend than the soft lights and gentle music which we usually have at Christmas. However a much greater than Arthur was here.
Now we get to the bit about being a refugee. Both the wise men and Joseph had warning dreams. Do you ever get them? The wise men were told not to go back to Herod and Joseph was told in his dream to take the child and Mary to Egypt. Notice He is called a "child" not a "baby." And so the "king of kings" became a refugee. Jesus gets alongside all in need. He does not get alongside the haughty and proud.
We do not know how long it was but after some time Joseph in Egypt heard that Herod was dead. He set out with Mary and Jesus to return to Bethlehem. It was then that he heard that Herod's son was reigning and guessing that he was tarred with the same brush as his father he decided to go North to Nazareth where they had originally lived.
Why Jesus came
So why did Jesus come as a baby at that first Christmas, when he was King of kings and Lord of lords? He didn't begin in Bethlehem but before that he was God the son in eternity. He put aside His status as God and came to live like us. Partly it was to show us what really matters in life and how we should live, but it was finally so that He could be the sacrifice that would satisfy God and we could be forgiven by trusting in Jesus. He did this because He loved us so much. He planned our rescue in eternity with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Together one God they loved us and wanted us back in their favour. So when we read our Bibles we find Jesus is determined to go to the cross. When Peter suggests another way Jesus is angry with him. It says "he set his face as a flint to go to Jerusalem" This is an expression which shows his determination. He did it for you and me.
He taught his disciples and the people for three years and then he knew it was time for Calvary, the place of the cross. If we try to follow his teachings, it may be very good, but we miss the point. He did not come as an example, he came to rescue from wrongdoing and make a way for us to come back to God. And will you turn your back on him?
Living is for giving. In giving there is forgiving.
So Christmas is a time to give because we received the most important gift of all, God's son. We should not be giving meaningless presents to each other that we do not need. We should be giving to the poor and homeless and the refugee. In so doing we are giving to Jesus himself. The gold necklace you give to your wife will spend most of its time in its box, whilst a child starves. If you fear your money will not be well spent abroad there are plenty of good causes in your own country. There are hospices to fund and children's play schemes needing money. No doubt your wife has twenty two other necklaces. No doubt there are pet schemes of your own which you could forget and give from that. Giving, this is what Jesus did. I am asking for your money. He gave His life.
Try to find the meaning of the first Christmas, without too many candles to soften the image
Books and music can help us on our journey of faith but it is contemplation that is really needed.
And still there is more to say
From heaven's glory
You came down.
Emptied, emptied, emptied
To be a human baby,
A refugee child.
Born in a cow shed.
The glorious One of eternity
Emptied, emptied, emptied.
Wielding no mighty power
The One through whom all things were made,
Emptied, emptied, emptied.
So He humbled Himself
To bless us with salvation
And will we still cling to all our rights and wants?
He gave up all for us
We should give up all for each other.