I've pondered the reality of what it must have been like, which must have been such a far cry from the nativity scene that sits on our coffee table year after year.
In that nativity, Mary looks much too clean: no sweat dripping down her cheeks from being in labor, no dirt on the hem of her robe. I can't smell the stench of the donkey or hear the moaning of contractions. And Joseph hovers in the background, a seemingly emotionless bystander of this miraculous event.
And in my mind, though this scene is so beautiful and reminds me of His birth, these molded pieces of plaster do no justice to how it really was.
There must have been tears.
There must have been gritted teeth through the excruciating pain of childbirth.
There must have been the fear of inadequacy in Mary's and Joseph's hearts that every new parent faces, but so much more than that. They were to parent God.
I picture the real shepherds, so weathered, so poorly educated. Maybe they had matted hair and bad breath. Without the bombardment of lights and technical effects that we experience today, a heavenly host of angels coming from the sky must have been completely shocking. They were "sore afraid." I would have been, too. I love that God chose that these shepherds would be Jesus' first visitors; the VIP guests, if you will. They weren't who we would've expected for the first people to meet the King of the World, if we had written the story. We wouldn't have allowed them to get their unclean hands on the Christ child.
But God was and is the Author of His story, our story. I love that He never misses a chance at imagery. It's possible that these shepherds, who were near Bethlehem which is only a few miles from Jerusalem, were guarding the temple lambs that were to be sacrificed for the sins of the people. I wonder if they knew that, when they looked into the manger at baby Jesus, they saw the sacrificial Lamb who would permanently, radically take away the sins of the entire world.
Somehow, I think they got it. At least a part of it. Luke writes that the shepherds returned from greeting Jesus and were glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, just as it was told to them. I don't really picture them closing their eyes and lifting their hands in worship. They had to be jumping, screaming, overwhelmed with the Good News!
And then there's baby Jesus. When I think of that tiny, Jewish, crying baby - that helpless, perfect child... I can't help but get tears in my eyes. What would it have been like to hold Him close? What would it have been like to see this beautiful baby and know that my sins would be cast on Him and would cause Him a gruesome, bloody death? When I think of Him, I am filled with praise. I might have rocked Him, humming "O Come Let Us Adore Him." I might have swaddled Him a little tighter to comfort Him. I might have let His tiny hands curl around my fingers.
Praise to our Lord, this strange God. He is strange to us because we never would've chosen this way to save the world. Praise for a compassionate God - compassionate because we never could have saved ourselves, and He knew it. We celebrate Christmas, not because it's a time of generosity or of goodwill. We celebrate Christmas because God did something for us that we never could've done for ourselves.
He gave us Peace.
He gave us Himself.
And because of it, our future as His children is incredibly bright.
Merry Christmas, friends.