“Tidings of great joy”

Although different churches use different readings to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, today I am inspired to use Luke 2:1-20, which is about the actual birth of Jesus and the witness of the shepherds afterwards.

Joseph and Mary have traveled to Bethlehem to register for the census and finding no room in an inn, Mary gives birth in a stable and lays Jesus in swaddling clothes in a manger. The gospel continues:

“There were shepherds in that region, living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flocks. The angel of the Lord appeared to them as the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were very much afraid. The angel said to them: “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good new to you — tidings of great joy to be shared with the whole people. This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and Lord. Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in high heaven, peace on earth to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another: “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.” They went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger; once they saw, they understood what had been told them concerning this child. All who heard of it were astonished at the report given them by the shepherds.

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, in accord with what had been told them.

Christmas is the day we all celebrate “tidings of great joy” at the birth of our savior, Jesus the Christ, the Messiah. We celebrate His birth and note the humbleness of the conditions under which he was born and those to whom the angels first made known the great news. Isn’t it amazing that the first to give witness to Jesus’ birth aren’t kings and mayors and wealthy land barons, but lowly shepherds? Maybe not so amazing, considering the way that Jesus lived.

This Christmas Eve I am mindful that this day, eve as a day of great joy, is about more than the birth of the sweet baby Jesus.

It actually ushers in the story of someone whose early life we aren’t given much information about, but we learn in scripture that at the age of twelve was thought by his mother Mary and dad Joseph to have been lost in the big city of Jerusalem but found to be in the main temple preaching, to the amazement of all who were listening.

And toward the beginning of his ministry in his early adulthood was cajoled by his mother while attending a wedding to help a poor bride and groom by changing water into wine, thus performing his first public miracle.

As this amazing person, Jesus, lives on he works more miracles, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, bringing back the dead to life, but just as important, he fed the poor, aided orphans and widows, and visited prisoners – and commanded us to do likewise.

And Jesus refused to be seen hobnobbing with the rich and famous, instead preferring the company of prostitutes, tax collectors, and others of less social stature, not because he was one of them but because most of them were among the least of our brothers and sisters, in soul if not in circumstance, and were in greater need of his grace and love than the self-righteous and overtly pious.

Jesus was also not too shy to shame the hypocrites of the religious and political establishment, who liked to grandstand their faith and their piety, and frequently reminded the rich and famous that the lowly and downtrodden would be first in the kingdom of heaven, not those who are usually the first escorted into the banquet halls or given the places of honor at the table.

And, of course, it is this sweet baby Jesus who later on would become a threat to the religious and political establishment and be scourged, crucified, and die on the cross, then raised from the dead and entered into the kingdom of heaven, leading the way that we might follow.

So while we celebrate the birth of Christ this Christmas, remember that it isn’t all just about the birth of this sweet baby, it’s also about the birth of his ministry and the lessons he then taught us. Many are those who focus on the birth and forget to feed the hungry, clothe and house the poor, heal the sick, give comfort to the lonely, adopt the orphan, and welcome the refugee. That, to the answer the question, is What Jesus Would Do, by his own example.

On this Christmas Eve, I wish you a Merry Christmas. Tidings of great joy to you! May the grace and peace of Christ be with you all this blessed season.

 

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