The last couple of days had been the most uncomfortable of Mary’s life. Not only was she heavily pregnant with the baby due any moment, but she’d also been forced to go on a long journey to Bethlehem with Joseph. The Emperor of Rome no less, had commanded that everyone return to their family home to be counted. Joseph was a descendent of the great king David, who originally came from Bethlehem, so, as the Roman Emperor had commanded - Mary and Joseph obeyed and travelled to Bethlehem!
It hadn’t helped that when they’d arrived at Bethlehem all the inns were full! Mercifully, one kind innkeeper let them stay in his stable out the back. It was a far from ideal place to have your first baby, but Mary wasn’t in any condition to argue!
Because no sooner had they arrived than the baby was born. Mary wrapped Him in strips of cloth, and laid Him down to sleep in the safest place she could think of – the animal’s feeding trough.
To be honest it was all pretty unremarkable. (P) But that all changed when later that night they had visitors with incredible stories of Angels! (PAUSE)
Out on the cold hills around Bethlehem the shepherds kept watch over their sheep. It wasn’t a very popular job being a shepherd. In fact most people looked down on shepherds these days, as they were about as low on the social scale as you could get! But they weren’t thinking about that as Zebedee told the other shepherds another one of his tall tales.
But just as Zebedee finished his story and lent forwards to throw another stick on the fire, suddenly an incredible and frightening light (if ever there was such a thing) shone all around them. The stick fell from Zebedee’s hand, and a look of sheer terror swept across his face.
The other shepherds saw his terror and turned to see what he was looking at. As they looked, they too froze in horror, for right before them stood a terrifying Angel. Frightening thoughts flashed through their minds and fear gripped at their hearts. But then the Angel spoke. ‘Don’t be afraid! For I bring wonderful and joyful news for you and for everyone. - The Saviour – yes, the Messiah, the Lord has been born this very night in Bethlehem, the city of David!’
The Saviour? The Messiah? The people of Israel had been waiting for the Messiah for hundreds of year, and now this Angel was telling them, mere shepherds, that the Messiah had come! But how were they going to find Him in Bethlehem? Before they could ask, the Angel spoke again. ‘And this is how you will know who He is.’ They lent forward, not wanting to miss a word. ‘You will find the baby wrapped in strips of cloth… and lying in an animal’s feeding trough.’
WHAT! In an animal’s feeding trough? Was he serious? Kings slept in royal palaces with royal beds and the finest quality sheets – they didn’t live with animals, get wrapped up in strips of clothe like poor people wrap their babies up with - and have an animals feeding trough as their bed! But how could they argue with this angel? Who could hear him and not believe every word he said?
And before they’d had time to think any more about it, an incredible sight opened before their eyes as 10 000 times 10 000 Angels - the armies of Heaven – filled the skies. Unable to hold back their joy any longer, the Angels sang in their delight, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to all those the Lord God favours.
It was incredible, wonderful, frightening and … and even more incredible. (P) But all too soon the Angels returned to heaven. (PAUSE) No one wanted to break the wonder of the moment, but after a while Zebedee said, ‘Come on then. Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this child, this wonderful thing the Lord’s told us about.’
And then, it was almost like a race - as they charged down to Bethlehem to see if what the Angel had said was true. And sure enough, there was the baby exactly as the Angel had said.
After seeing the baby, the shepherds told everyone they met about the incredible things that had happened that night, and what the angel had said about the child. Everyone who heard their story was amazed at what the shepherds had said. And as for the shepherds, they returned to their flocks, praising God for what the angel had told them and because they’d seen the baby for themselves. (P) And Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart, thinking about them often.