Four years ago, I rewrote the traditional Christmas readings. Sounds heretical, I realise that, but think of it more as a paraphrase than a direct translation and that will hopefully lessen your horror…
The readings revitalised the Christmas message and were so popular that they have been requested ever since by different churches and for a range of occasions.
Why not use them this Christmas in your church? As always, the resource is free so by all means print these off and read them out this December!
The Story of the Birth
This is the story of a birth. Come back, if you will, to a time before carefully structured birth-plans, freely available epidurals and a well-equipped team of fully-qualified midwives. Come to a manger. Come and see a mother whose nine months of pregnancy has ended in a cross-country census trip with no pre-arranged comfortable accommodation, just in case the baby comes at a bad time.
Emperor Augustus had given orders for the names of all the people in the Roman Empire to be listed in record books. Everyone had to go to their own hometown to be listed. For Joseph, along with his heavily pregnant fiancée Mary, that meant leaving Nazareth and trekking to Bethlehem. Bethlehem was the hometown of King David, and it wouldn’t be long before it hosted the birth of an even greater king.
This would be no easy birth though. Certainly not the birth we would expect a king to have. Alone and exhausted, unable to find room to stay in the Inn, Mary and Joseph find shelter amongst the animals. Mary gives birth to a son, wrapping him and laying him on a bed of hay. The king’s first bed. No scales to weigh the pounds and ounces. No family rushing to discover if he has his father’s eyes. Just a couple, miles from home, eagerly anticipating who their baby would become.
The Story of the Shepherds and the Three Kings
This was a baby that people had waited centuries to see. And it is maybe a little odd for us today to hear that shepherds were the first people chosen to lay eyes on the new-born king. But here they were – outcasts in society working in demanding and lonely conditions – when the angel of the Lord appeared to bring them such unexpected news. Terrified, they hid their eyes as the angel declared:
‘Don’t be afraid! I have good news for you, which will make everyone happy. This very day in King David’s hometown a Saviour was born for you. He is Christ the Lord. You will know who he is, because you will find him wrapped and lying on a bed of hay.’
Suddenly, many other angels appeared, praising God and saying:
‘Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth to everyone who pleases God!’
After the angels had left and gone back to heaven, the shepherds said to each other:
‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord has told us about.’
They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and they saw the baby lying on a bed of hay. They repeated what the angels had declared about him. Everyone listened and was surprised. But Mary kept thinking about all this and wondering what it meant.
The shepherds were not the only ones chosen for this great honour. Wise men from the east also saw Jesus’ star in the night sky and rushed to Jerusalem to ask King Herod where the king of the Jews was due to be born, since they were keen to go and worship him. Herod’s advisers informed him that the prophets had said that Bethlehem was the place – exactly where Jesus had just been born – and so the King told them:
‘Go and search carefully for the child. Then, let me know where he is so that I can come and worship him too.’
The wise men followed the star ahead of them, and it guided them to the place where Jesus lay. They were thrilled and excited to discover the king and knelt before this little baby to worship him. A baby whose first bed was merely a pile of hay was now being treated like a true king, as the wise men offered him gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Later, in a dream, they were warned not to return to Herod and so they went back home by another road, wondering at the sights they had seen.
Telling the Good News
This baby was the promised King. This baby was one with God. This baby was God. From the very beginning, this baby – the word of life – was with God, and nothing was made without him. Everything that was created received its life from him. He has shone his light into this dark world, and the darkness has never been able to put it out.
A man named Simeon was living in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus’ birth and he loved and trusted God, waiting for him to save the people of Israel. God’s Spirit had promised him that he would not die until he had seen Christ the Lord. Imagine his astonishment and joy when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple! Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, saying:
‘Lord, I am your servant, and now I can die in peace, because you have kept your promise to me. With my own eyes I have seen what you have done to save your people and all foreign nations. Your mighty power is a light for all nations and it will bring honour to your people Israel.’
He spoke of the light and power that had been promised – the same light that had shone in the darkness through all eternity. But, he made it clear to Mary that Jesus would not be received by everyone as he deserved. He told her:
‘This child of yours will cause many people in Israel to fall and others to stand.’
Jesus would divide people of all nations, for not all people would see him for who he is. Not all people would accept the light. Not all people would welcome the Word. Even though this Word gave life to the world, gave life to the people of the world, many would not recognise, welcome or accept him.
Yet, some people would accept him and put their faith in him. And to those he would give the right to become the children of God, not through anything they had done but through the loving mercy of their heavenly Father.
The Word has come and we have seen his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. A glory that shines today as it has shone through all eternity. From this Son, all the kindness and truth of God has come down to us. God’s light and God’s Word is with us.