T’was the night before the night before Christmas … we sing carols and light candles with a beautiful manger scene on the altar to remind us that Jesus came as a baby, lived a sinless life, and eventually died so we could be with him in the perfect Heaven he left on the first Christmas day. It’s good to worship and celebrate what Jesus did for us on this night before the night before Christmas!
The manger scene is beautiful but only beautiful because it’s a snapshot of Christmas night. After the Angel spoke after the shepherds followed the star after Jesus was born. What if we set up a manger scene to depict the night before Christmas? Or the night before the night before Christmas? We sing, “Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright …” but that’s describing Christmas night. I can only imagine that the first Christmas Eve Eve was not silent or quiet or calm!
Let’s look at Joseph first. In Luke 2:1 it says,
“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.”
Joseph is feeling tired, nervous about being a father to a child who wasn’t his. He had just traveled (by foot and/or donkey) about 80-90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem with a pregnant wife. He’s going back to his hometown with a pregnant fiancée- the angel spoke to Mary and Joseph, explaining what was going on, but not to the town. What would they say? What would they think? Maybe Joseph is annoyed at God’s timing, why couldn’t this baby have been born when travel wasn’t necessary? Where were they going to stay? What would happen if Mary gave birth on the journey? So many unanswered questions!
How about Mary? In Luke 2, starting in verse 5 it says,
“He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there was no guest room available for them.”
The night before Christmas, Mary isn’t rocking her baby, introducing Him to the shepherds with an angel singing above. Mary is 9 months pregnant and according to the tradition of the time, 12-14 years old. Ready to give birth, at the end of an 80-90 mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem. She’s tired and maybe a bit cranky. She’s traveling to her hometown, pregnant and not married. She knows she will be an outcast, with judging eyes looking from all directions.
Don’t get me wrong, Mary and Joseph may have been young but their relationship with God was far beyond their years. They knew God’s word and followed it consistently and without hesitation. They feared God and had a relationship with him, but they were still human. They still questioned and feared and got cranky every now and again.
I imagine Mary was worried about giving birth alone, it wasn’t customary for a woman to give birth without a midwife and family to support her. Mary and Joseph questioned and feared as we so often do but God provided as He always does. Let’s continue with the story in v.8 of Luke 2.
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.”
The shepherds were outcasts in their society, they were dirty and smelled like sheep! You were a shepherd because your parents were shepherds, and one day your kids would become shepherds too. Shepherds were uneducated and didn’t think they mattered to anyone. The only reason anyone kept them around is that no one else wanted their job.
The night before the first Christmas, I imagine the shepherds were wondering if their lives had a purpose. Would it ever get better or were they stuck in a perpetual cycle of doing what they had always done with no hope for change.
The last of our manger scene is the Wise Men. The Wise Men didn’t show up until Jesus was two (Matthew 2:11) … so who knows what they were doing Christmas Eve Eve.
The night before the first Christmas, the situation seemed hectic and a bit out of control. How often do I find myself feeling that same way about situations in my own life? Tonight, on this night right before we celebrate Jesus’ birth, do you find yourself relating to any of the characters in our Christmas story?
Maybe you feel tired, or cranky, or judged by society and family like Mary did. Or maybe you’re questioning God’s timing like Joseph. Or maybe, like the shepherds, you just don’t think anyone cares about you. You’re questioning the purpose of your life. You’re in good company and I have good news. The moment Jesus was born, everything changed!
Mary and Joseph forgot about the journey that made them tired. They didn’t care about the judging eyes and comments because they knew they were part of God’s bigger plan and they knew that society didn’t understand. They were thankful for a place to stay and shepherds to celebrate with, even if the birth of their first born wasn’t what they had planned. The moment Jesus was born was the moment the shepherds knew that they had been chosen to be a part of the most significant Historical event of all times! Not only did someone care, the God of all the universe cared enough to allow them to be among the first to celebrate the birth of His son!
The night before that first Christmas …
The shepherds stared into the eyes rejection, the next day they stared into the eyes of grace
Joseph stared into the eyes of uncertainty, the next night he stared into the eyes of his Lord
Mary stared into the eyes of critics, the very next day into the eyes of God.
When we allow Jesus into our lives, everything changes. What are you staring at today? What needs to change? Allow Jesus to be the gift of whatever you need this Christmas.