They Were at Bethlehem
Five Christmas Vignettes
Imaginations Cast Their Spell
In The quietness of this hour, let our imaginations cast their spell. Let us imagine that the darkness of descending night has surrounded us. Let our minds fly through the night until we find ourselves on a lonely road, winding its way into the obscure village of Bethlehem. Off in the distance we see that the wicks have been lit in the village and their small beams of light seem to beckon us on.
Many people are with us here on the road, moving endlessly toward the city. One there is seemingly drunk and rude. Soldiers ride through, demanding that others keep out of their way. Another quietly and swiftly moves in and out of the crowds taking what he can and then steals back into the darkness.
A woman, named Mary, sits heavily upon the back of a donkey, while a carpenter, named Joseph, leads the way. “There is no room in the inn,” we hear the voice say, “but the stable is clean and warm; perhaps you would like to stay there."
We've seen them all before: the tired needing rest; those who have no place to stay; the lonely moving with the crowd, just wishing to do their part; thieves and outcasts hanging onto life by a mere thread; and those who live by cruel strength and might. We've seen them all before. All sorts and conditions of human life.
In these strange and humble surroundings God chose to send His Son. Not in some great cathedral, not in some stately palace, not in some magnificent city, but where one might least expect the Savior to be born, between those stable walls, in an obscure village: Bethlehem.
It makes us think about who it is that Jesus came to save. It makes us wonder in what obscure place we might find him, for Christ was born in a place like that for a time like this.
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Deep Resources of the Soul
As we wander through the city of Bethlehem, we find many who were not there at the stable. In that window we can see a woman sifting her flour to make bread for the morning. We see a man sitting down to read with children playing at his feet. Across the courtyard from the inn come sounds that seem to pierce the stillness of the night. There are sounds of dishes rattling, of people singing, of conversations being enjoyed. Far off in another city is Herod, wondering about the rumors of a King to be born. Herod, fearing that his authority might be taken away.
There a many who were not physically present at the stable in Bethlehem, but, in another sense, they were there. When a mother felt the warm love of her child, she was there. When a man who had wronged his neighbor asked for forgiveness, he was there. People have often found God in the deep resources of their souls and, consequently, have found themselves at the threshold of the manger bed.
There have been many who either could not or did not find their way to the manger in Bethlehem and are still searching for its blessing. It is for them that we pray, for Christ was born for people like that for a time like this.
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The Strange Song
It was a strange song the angels sang that night on the hillside surrounding Bethlehem. We are told that shepherds received the strange, yet wonderful message of the Messiah's birth. They were lowly shepherds, trying to shake off the boredom of their long watch with lusty tales and rollicking songs. They were anxious shepherds, constantly on guard for some sudden disturbance or some ominous sound that would threaten their flock. But it was a strange, yet wonderful sound they heard of peace and good will and God's glory.
Our shepherds today work not on a hillside, but in factories, in offices, in hospitals, in department stores, in gas stations, in wheat fields and in rice paddies — in all corners of the earth, where people tend their modern-day flock.
Listen, do you hear it? Off in the distance comes the sound of angel voices. Voices born in the still resources of the soul. Amid all the sound and confusion of our day the strains can still be heard echoing from off the Judean hills. We look up into the black heavens and feel once again the wonder and joy of hearing the angel’s song, for Christ was born for the glory of God for a time like this.
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Men of Wealth and Position
As the sounds of music fade into the corners of our minds, we are aware of the soft sound of camels’ feet approaching from the distance. They do not stop at the inn, but continue on toward the stable. Three figures stand etched against the sky, men of evident wealth and position. They hurry by, each carrying something in his hands. They hesitate a moment at the stable door, then bowing their heads in an attitude of prayer, they step through. They do not speak many words, simply put down their costly gifts and join the lowly shepherds surrounding the Mother and Child.
The Child never asked for gifts, never demanded any payment. He asked for only one response: our love, for Christ was born for a love like that for a time like this.
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John 1:1-5, 9-14
Emergence Out of Darkness
It makes no difference who was at Bethlehem's manger, if we are not there. It makes no difference what songs the angels sang, if we do not hear them. It matters little that the lowly shepherds heard the good news while they watched their flocks by night, if we do not listen. It is of little consequence that gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh were given, if we do not give our love.
But we are there. We, too, fall on our knees before the cradle of the Christ Child, knowing that we have seen God's love reflected in his face. Then we rise up and go out into the most beautiful night and into the most brilliant day in all history, for out of darkness there has come a star. Out of the darkness there has come God's love. Into the midst of a sorrowful world has come God's joy, for Jesus Christ, Lord of Lords, King of Kings, was born for us for a time like this.
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Presented by the Rev. Calvin Coolidge Wilson
Sunset Hills United Presbyterian Church
24 December 2014
Note: The texts of these five vignettes are compiled and edited by Mr. Wilson
but are not his original creation.