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December 2019

March 18, 2020

Dear Friends

Let’s hear a story, a truly wonderful story of how and why we celebrate Christmas. It happened just over 2000 years ago and is recalled for us by Mary, now an old lady.

I grew up in a little town in Galilee called Nazareth. There was nothing special about my childhood, but nothing unusual or bad either. In my teens I became engaged to the village carpenter and we were looking forward to our marriage but then everything changed. One morning I was cleaning for mum as usual when I became aware of a bright light and I sensed the presence of someone, I turned round and there was an angel standing there, in our living room. Then he spoke, “Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you.” I was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that. But the angel assured me,           “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus. I said to the angel, “But how? I’ve never slept with a man.” He answered, “Nothing is impossible with God! The Holy Spirit will come upon you, the child you bring to birth will be called Holy, Son of God and Saviour.”

Now Joseph was not best pleased when he discovered that I was pregnant. Angry but noble, Joseph was determined to break off the engagement quietly so I would not be disgraced. While he was trying to figure out a way to do this, he had a dream. God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived. God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant. She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus—‘God saves’—because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph woke up and did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream: He brought the wedding forward but we did not consummate the marriage until after the birth of Jesus. In fact I went to spend a few months with my cousin Elizabeth

I came back from my cousin’s and Joseph and I were preparing for the birth when we heard that Caesar Augustus had ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. Everyone had to go back to their home town to be accounted for. So as Joseph was of Davidic descent we had to go from Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, which was David’s town. It was a long journey, not easy for a woman who was eight months
pregnant. When we finally got there we couldn’t find anywhere to stay. The city was jam packed with visitors. All the inns were full but eventually we found a kind innkeeper who offered us space in his stable. It was wonderful, quiet, warm and private which was just as well because that night I gave birth to my firstborn son. I had to wrap him in a blanket and put him in a manger because there was nowhere else.

We had just got back to sleep when we heard a commotion outside the door. Joseph got up to see what it was and found some shepherds there. He invited them in and they told us an amazing story. They were in the fields on the hills above Bethlehem. It was a quiet night but just after they had set night watches over the sheep they became aware of a bright light, almost like daylight. Amazed they looked up and saw an angel in the midst of the light. They were terrified but the angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to tell you about a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Saviour has just been born in Bethlehem, a Saviour who is Messiah and Master. Go and find him. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.” The angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: “Glory to God in the heavens, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.”

After the angels disappeared the shepherds talked it over and decided to come down to Bethlehem and see for themselves what the Angels had told them. They arrived out of breath and found us in the stable, When they left us the Shepherds told everyone they met what the angels had said about Jesus and all who heard it were impressed. The shepherds returned to the fields and let loose, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

We couldn’t go back to Nazareth with a young baby so we rented a house in Bethlehem and Joseph worked as a carpenter. Some time later we had some very exotic visitors, a group of Sages. They had travelled hundreds of miles from their homes in Eastern Asia and they told us an amazing story. Apparently they were astrologers and were always studying the stars to see what they could learn about the world. One day they noticed a new, really bright star in the sky. They were very excited because of the ancient prophecies that said that such a star heralded the birth of a great new King, greater than the world has ever seen before. They discussed it and decided that they simply had to follow the star and pay homage to the newborn King.  The journey took them across deserts, mountains and plains until eventually they arrived in Jerusalem.

Naturally they went to the royal palace and met King Herod, asking him, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews?” story. He consulted his advisors who told them to go to Bethlehem. Anyway the star appeared again, and led them to us. They came in, knelt down and worshiped Jesus. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh. They stayed with us for supper and then we all bedded down for the night. We were all asleep when it happened again, an Angel appeared with messages for us; “Sages, Herod is trying to trick you. Don’t go back to see him. He sees Jesus as a threat and wants to kill him.” “Mary, Joseph, Get up now. Herod wants to kill Jesus. Take him and go to Egypt you’ll be safe there.” That’s exactly what we did. We travelled south together until the road splits just after Beersheba. We then turned west towards Egypt and the Sages headed east.

Of course there is much more Mary can tell us about the life of Jesus, his childhood, his ministry and his death and resurrection but this is the beginning of the most beautiful story ever told, and it’s not fiction it is history. Jesus, God’s son, came to earth and life was never the same again for everyone involved in the story. This story still changes lives.  At Christmas, we are not just remembering how he came but also why – to show God’s love and to give us the opportunity to have a new relationship with him.

The world (and that means you and me) need Jesus today just as much as they did 2023 years ago. Will you celebrate this year not just what happened in the past, but what can happen today – Jesus coming to     share your life and will you tell the story to those who do not yet kn