Joseph, must return from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the land of his ancestors, because the Roman governor of Syria had demanded that everyone in his district be counted.
Joseph and his very pregnant fiancé, Mary, slowly travel this long journey of 80 miles. Imagine how Mary felt: very heavy with child, so uncomfortable riding a donkey side saddle for over a week, plodding down the rough roads. They finally arrive in Bethlehem and Joseph pushes his way through the crowded streets to an inn, hoping for shelter. “Please,” he begs, “Please, any room will do. We are tired and have traveled far.” “Ha!” replies the innkeeper. “We have no rooms for you.” and slams the door.
Joseph turns and pulls the donkey with Mary behind him as he searches out another inn where he pounds on door after door begging for shelter. Mary is so tired. Her back aches, her belly is enormous, her feet are swollen, she desperately wants to lie down and rest.
Joseph is filled with love for her. He sees one more inn and again begs for any room, any place to shelter his dear Mary. “Look at her,” he pleads, “Look at my Mary. Can’t you help us?” The innkeeper stares at them both and knows he must help them. Finally, Mary can rest in a simple cave behind the inn, not too clean, shared by animals.
She is young, maybe 14 or 15 years old. She gives birth quickly. As she holds her beautiful son, she knows that he is special. She and Joseph lose themselves in the deep gaze of this baby.
Meanwhile, outside the city walls, under the bright, starry sky, simple shepherds watch their sheep. They pass the time looking at the familiar stars. The night is peaceful, the sheep are safe, all is calm. One shepherd, then another, sees the sky brighten and they notice a new, strong star overhead. The silence of the night is broken by angelic singing and they cower in fear. “Don’t be afraid,” an angel tells them. “Hurry to find the newborn wrapped in swaddling cloths. Follow the star.”
Pulled, as if by magnets, they run off toward town, rushing through the streets, past the crowds, pulled, pulled, they find themselves behind an inn, at a simple cave. When they hear the cry of a newborn, they drop to their knees and weep along with the baby. They creep forward, Mary smiles and nods to them and they behold the Christ child. They know this is no ordinary baby.
Late in the night, they return to their sheep. They move slowly, their faces glow. They can’t stop smiling. A fellow shepherd looks at them, shaking his head. “Where have you two been?” Our shepherds answer: “We have seen him. We have seen the savior of the world.” The friend stares at them, somehow knowing they speak the truth. “What did he look like?” The shepherds look down at themselves, then up at their friend. “The hope for all salvation looks like you and me.”
‘He looks like you and me.’ The humility of this story overwhelms me. The hope for all salvation is born to an unwed teenager in a cave, surrounded by animals. His first bed is a feed trough. And to whom did God choose to send the first notice of this miracle? To lowly shepherds. Remember that there was a census going on, in which every single person was to be counted. So why are the shepherds out in the fields? Because they were so lowly, so unimportant in their world, that they were not a part of the census, as though they weren’t even people!
Yet, they were the first to hear of the savior. They were the first to view the baby. They were first to confirm to Mary and Joseph the truly miraculous nature of the baby. And they were the first preachers, the first to go back and share the amazing news that a savior had come.
‘The salvation of the world looks like you and me.’ Human, so human. God sent his only son to live among us. To feel hunger, pain, joy, sorrow and everything that comes with being human. He lived among us to show us how a human can be godly and with love, great love, throughout his life. Jesus shows us how to reach out to the outcast, the leper, the unclean, the stranger.
‘He looks like you and me.’ Let’s look at ourselves. Could we be saviors? Well, every day each of us can do small things with great love. Like Jesus, we can reach out to the poor, we can embrace the outcast, we can befriend the lonely, care for the sick. These small acts, done with great love, can change the world. Each of us can be saviors in our own small lives.
Every Christmas, I feel as if Christ is being born all over again, a new birth. Christmas can also be a new birth for each of us. Jesus was born, Jesus is born here, tonight and Jesus will be born again. We recognize this at Christmas but maybe it’s happening all the time. Maybe every day brings an opportunity for the Lord to be born into our lives!
Christ our savior is born! Alleluia!