This evening, Christmas Eve to be exact, the fire in the hearth hisses and crackles at me. The warmth soothes my weary bones, like the stones upon which the firelight flickers against, warming them, bringing them back to life. Late this afternoon I took a break from wiring the Retreat and took a much overdue walk. It was an early Christmas gift to myself, you might say.
The sky was a perfect Carolina blue with the sunlight filtering through the barren branches of the forest. My body felt sluggish, not something I had remembered in recent times. From the recent medical prognosis, it was apparent that I would never be as fast or as strong as I once was physically. Those sub-five-minute miles will only be a memory from now on (unless, of course, I’m driving in a car). In fact, as the saying goes, “I’ll never be as good as I once was.” It wasn’t quite the gift I had expected. As my weary legs finally carried me back to the Retreat, I was thankful just to have been able to walk along the whispering creeks and waterfalls.
The family was still gone on some last-minute Christmas Eve errands. So many spent the recent days hurrying and fretting over preparations for the perfect day when family and friends will fill their homes. I was thankful to be free of that burden and able to relax for a change. Back inside my little cabin in the woods, I stoked the fire back to a roar and sat back sipping on a hot brew As the burgeoning flames cracked and popped, my mind pondered the recent scripture that would not leave my head; from the book of Luke. It is probably the most quoted gospel this time of year.
From the point when Mary has received the direction of the Arch Angel Gabriel, to the immaculate conception, there is a story within itself. “And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Like the spark that lights the fire, the hand of God came upon Mary, and in that instant, the being of God in the form of human flesh began to develop in her fetus. The “Most High” overshadowed her. The Greek word for “overshadow” is comprised of two words, which basically describe a cloud of energy that enveloped Mary, at which point, Christ was literally conceived. To understand in our simple humanness is more than a struggle. Yet, the indescribable doesn’t stop there.
Later, when Mary and Joseph reach Bethlehem, as it was foretold, Jesus would be born in a lowly manger, a trough from which animals eat. Remember the prodigal son and how it was described that he fell so far that he literally ate out of the same troughs as the pigs which he tended. Our Lord and Savior was born in such a condition, in a feeding trough. And when Mary had wrapped him in swaddling clothes, rags if you will, he was ready to receive the many guests that would soon arrive.
Unbeknownst to Mary and Joseph, out in the neighboring fields of Bethlehem, shepherds were standing watch over their flocks at night, when another Angel came to them. Now before I jump into the scripture that you have probably heard a thousand times, allow me to precede it with something that you may have never thought of before.
As I have already alluded, this was not just a common birth. This was literally God being born for the first time ever, in the form of human flesh. It was a sentinel moment in the history of God. This was a moment in eternity in which the significance, although entirely missed by the spiritual leaders of the time, would so impact the entirety of Glory above that it would be as if all of heaven’s Angels, for a moment, would stop everything and come to earth to attend the birth of a Savior, the son of God. For the first time in all of creation, God was coming to earth, to be born of a lowly handmaiden, in a stable. Had those Pharisees and Jewish leaders understood the prophecies of which they supposedly had learned so well, they too could have joined the unimaginable moment with all of creation, but they would not. They would be lost to the moment and forever because of their unbelief. What they would miss would be the gift of a lifetime, of an eternity. God would come to earth to live and die like one of his own creation’s so that he would feel our pain, know our suffering so that when he would eventually defeat death, and his blood would flow freely down the cross, we would know that God had given us the most precious gift mankind would ever know; His Son.
Now, reread the scripture with that picture in your mind, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.”
Notice how the shepherds feared the initial Angel and how it comforted them until they were somewhat at ease. It was then, once they had been calmed that the enumerable multitude of Heavenly hosts appeared before them. So great was the light that it could be seen beyond the local pastures of Bethlehem. Luke would later recall, in separate writings, how many philosophers, scientists, and spiritual leaders would recall seeing the bright light in the sky and how each of them would separately interpret the scene. Imagine the lowly shepherds, uneducated, poor, and of simple faith, and how their hearts might have stopped but for a moment in awe at the sight before them; the heavens filled with Angels on high. The angelic illumination was so bright that the mere mortal shepherds would have nearly been blinded, without and within. They literally had been moved beyond belief as can be seen by the following passage.
“And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
These men, who were in charge of other men’s flock, left their post and ran into town. The mere fact that they abandoned their livelihood to seek out the babe in swaddling clothes would tell you of their sheer panic. Adrenaline rushing through their veins, they sought the length of the city for the child. They didn’t stop until they found him. When they finally reached the stable, covered in sweat, breathing heavily, they hesitantly entered, knowing that this was no normal child for which they were to admire. There before them, glowing underneath the watchful eye of his mother, was the babe of whom the Angel had spoken. Mary had instinctively picked up her baby to protect him when this mass of strangers began to enter the stables. But to her disbelief, they now fell at her feet and began to worship her child. They would eventually share with her and Joseph the reason for the worship and awe of the infant child. From there, the shepherds would not stop. They would leave the stable and go far and wide sharing their story. Eventually, they would return and share with her the wonderful reactions and praises for which the Christ child had heralded. Mary’s head had to be spinning at all that had transpired in just a matter of months. She had gone from a simple peasant to the mother of the Son of God. She had to be dreaming, she might have told herself more than once. And as you can imagine, “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
Luke’s interview with Mary and her recanting this story, as it was likely shared with her many times by those exact shepherds, so impacted Luke, a physician, that he kept it just as it was told to him. In fact, all of the story, from the immaculate conception to the birth is recounted through the eyes of this glorious and wonderful physician, as he was known in his time. That being said, you can now perhaps better understand the significance of the timeline for which these events took place. Perhaps, even more, that you may think about this precious gift we all have been given, even now, as the realm for which God gave his only begotten Son so that any who should believe shall be saved.
Tomorrow, if not already, you will hopefully have family and friends over to open gifts and to celebrate Christmas. When the wrapping paper is finally collected, and everyone has had time to contemplate their gifts, both given and received, some may take time to reflect upon the reason behind the most significant holiday on our calendar, at least to most people. If allowed, ask them to listen for a moment, and share with them something special. Share with them the greatest story ever told.
In life, we reach a point when we only reduce our biological stability, perhaps maintaining for a while, but eventually, we will slow a few more steps, rise a bit slower, and recall even less. Yet, through it all, we should be thankful in our daily walk, no matter the struggles, and remember that we have been given the most precious gift known to man. Nearly 2000 years ago, a present was wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger, not under a tree. Those who were there to receive did not need to unwrap their gift to know its importance.
Tomorrow, pause for a moment and give thanks to God above for the greatest gift of all.
be to God.
 Luke 1:35
 Luke 2:8-15
 Luke 2:16-18
 Luke 2:19