The preparation time for Christmas can be a very emotional time.
There can be feelings of great excitement, as families and friends plan for that special day—to make that special effort to be in the one place at the one time. There can be feelings of great joy, as cards or letters are received from old friends—people not heard from very often or people who live just that little bit too far away. And there can be feelings of intrigue: “Just what is in that parcel that has my name on it?”
But for others it can also be a time of dread: “How am I going to buy those presents?” or “Family life has never been that good, I wish Christmas would go away.” It can also be a time of terrible sadness, being unable to share it with loved ones, who are not around anymore—people who have moved away or have died.
And of course, there can be the roller coaster ride of preparations, with the feelings of satisfaction when all the plans come right, and the feelings of frustration and anger when things don’t.
Now if you’re here today, and you’ve managed to avoid all the emotional pitfalls of Christmas (so far), then I congratulate you. However, for most people, Christmas does not usually go totally smoothly. And for some, the whole “Christmas thing” is such a traumatic experience, that they can’t wait for it to be all over—or, wish that it had never come around in the first place.
So have I hit a nerve? Do any of these emotions describe how you have felt this Christmas so far? I’m sure they do. But if this is the range of emotions that we go through, have you ever considered what Mary and Joseph, and the shepherds and the angels felt? What sorts of emotions that they went through?
Well, let’s have a look at the story.
B. THE BIRTH OF JESUS
1. Mary & Joseph (1-7)
And we begin with the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, with Mary in a very advanced state of pregnancy.
Now knowing that they had to travel 140 kilometres—a three-day journey on foot from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the purpose of a local census—would have been hard. And what’s worse, much of the journey would have been uphill.
Imagine the scene. Joseph we’re told was a law-abiding citizen. And apart from the consequences of disobeying the edict, he would have felt a sense of obligation to fulfil the requirements of the law. And we can assume that Mary did too.
And at the other end of the journey, we’re not told how either of them felt. But we can imagine how Mary felt on arrival in Bethlehem. She would have been hot, tired and extremely uncomfortable. And, I wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t been a little bit irritable too.
But that’s only the half of it. Because when they arrived, there was no private room available. So Mary was probably presented with some totally inappropriate place to stay—most likely a cave—in which she was supposed to give birth to her baby. What’s more she had to make do with an animal’s feeding trough for a cot.
Now you can imagine, that when they arrived in Bethlehem, she may not have been in the best of moods, and Joseph may not have been feeling so happy either. But then the safe birth of the baby may well have done something to change their mood.
2. The Shepherds (8-12)
But let’s leave the happy family for a moment and check out the shepherds.
It was night and they were on watch to guard their sheep against thieves and wild animals. When all of a sudden, an angel appeared, and they found themselves surrounded by a very bright light.
Their first reaction was of course fear—they were scared out of their minds. They knew by the bright light that they were in the presence of God. They were awestruck—and I mean that in the true meaning of the word.
However, they then probably got a second feeling—that of being honoured. Shepherds in those days were people held in very low regard. Their job was one of the lowest of the low. And to be visited by an angel of God would have been a very great honour indeed.
The shepherds were then told not to fear, for the angel had come to bring good news. This was a time for joy. A birth had taken place which would benefit not only them, but everyone who was willing to receive the news. The Messiah had been born, and they were told to visit him.
Now for the shepherds this would have been absolutely amazing. The Jewish people had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah to be born. Indeed some people had even (falsely) claimed to have been the Messiah. So for the shepherds to be told—and to be told directly by an angel—that the event their people had been waiting for, for so long, had actually arrived, would have been quite an occasion.
3. The Angels (13-14)
And if they had any feelings of doubt, they would have been quickly dispelled. Because, all of a sudden, a second thing happened to them. They became surrounded by other angels, and a whole heavenly host (and that may have included some very strange and wonderful looking creatures). And what they were doing, was praising God and proclaiming a new era of peace between God and man—a new era of blessings on those God chose to favour and save.
Well, you can imagine the feelings of the shepherds after all that. They were probably not only excited, but also emotionally drained.
4. Three reactions (15-20)
But then the heavenly host returned to heaven, and not without a little curiosity, the shepherds rushed off to see the baby for themselves.
But it doesn’t end there either, because we’re told that they were so excited at what they saw they couldn’t keep it to themselves. They had to tell everyone what they had found.
And as the story ends, three final reactions are described.
Firstly, we are told that those who listened to the shepherd’s story were filled with wonder. They were astonished and amazed.
Secondly, Mary, was deeply affected by the visit of the shepherds. She’d had the advantage of prior knowledge of the child’s destiny, but now she was more pensive as she began to think more seriously of the meaning behind it all.
And thirdly, the shepherds themselves . . . Well they went off glorifying God. What they had witnessed matched perfectly what they angel had predicted. They were convinced that, indeed, the baby Jesus was the Messiah, the promised saviour of the world.
The original Christmas story . . . what a wonderful mixture of emotions.
Joseph would have felt obligation and duty. Mary would have too. But Mary would have also felt the agony of the journey, and who knows what she thought of the accommodation. But after the visit of the shepherds she was relaxed and thoughtful, contemplating what it all could possibly mean.
The shepherds on the other hand, had moved from fear to curiosity, to extreme excitement. Indeed only the angels remained consistent throughout.
But no matter how it started, no matter what feelings were felt on the way, in the end, Mary, the shepherds, the angels, the neighbours, (& probably even Joseph) were all at one. They were amazed and glorified God, full of wonder and praise.
Now can you imagine the different scenes? Can you imagine the events as they unfurled? Can you imagine the emotions that were felt?
Well if you can, what does this time—this feast of Christmas—really mean to you?
After all, how do our emotions this Christmas compare with those who were actually there on the first Christmas Day? And do our feelings pale into insignificance in comparison with the emotions that were felt then? Because regardless of what we are going through, when did we last feel the same excitement and joy over the birth of Jesus that they did then?
You know, these days, many people know the story, but they have never felt the emotions. They can recite the series of events, but there’s no feeling behind the story. To some it’s just a story and that’s all it is. And that’s sad, because if they feel that way then the whole point of the story has been lost. Because the story should evoke a lot of feeling; it should evoke a lot of meaning too.
To the people of the first Christmas, Jesus was not only expected, but he was an answer to prayer. So come the birth of Jesus, all were united in their excitement and their joy.
But they weren’t excited because he was a cute baby. It wasn’t because he was some part of a fairy tale kind of story. It was more than that. It was because they recognised that God had reached out, giving his creation—us—the opportunity to be rescued from our sins. He had reached out so that those who believed could be rewarded with life after death with God. A complete reverse of life after death without God, for those who do not believe and for those who simply sit on the fence.
It’s God’s rescue, that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the angels were so excited about. Jesus was the solution to the world’s biggest problem—the need for reconciliation with God. And so Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, the angels, and all the surrounding people were responding to the fact that without Jesus that just wasn’t possible. And despite all the feelings leading up to the event—all the highs and lows—that was the reason they got so excited.
And that’s the reason why, this Christmas, we should be excited too.
So how are things going for you this Christmas? In the past few weeks, running up to Christmas, what sort of emotions have you felt? Have your preparations for today put you through the roller coaster of emotions? Have you felt excitement, joy, intrigue, dread, sadness, expectation, satisfaction, frustration, or even anger? Or have you somehow remained remarkably even and controlled?
For those who’ve had it steady, I congratulate you. For those who’ve had it rough, I can only hope that things improve. But whatever your emotions up to this point, I do hope that in all the busyness of the season, we can all take time to think of the emotions of that first Christmas. And that we can reflect on the joy and excitement that the birth of Jesus brought.
I also hope that that joy and excitement will be ours too. And it can be, but only if we embrace the reconciliation with God that Jesus was brought into this world to bring.
Posted 21st December 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis