Reader: “Glory to God in the highest,”
Response: “And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20 (KJV)
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Reader: “The glorious word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
I would guess you have heard the Christmas Story at least as many times as your age, probably more. We pretty much know the basics. I used the King James Version as it is the most elegant translation from my perspective. The danger in knowing something so well is that it simply reads like “Goodnight Moon” or some other wonderful children’s book. It’s virtually memorized and we just enjoy the sound of hearing it again. The account of the entrance of God into this world in human flesh can become nothing other than “The Christmas Story,” followed by “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Our challenge is not to romanticize the nativity account. For example, it is very unlikely that Mary rode the 90 miles from Nazareth on the back of a donkey in the cold of December while she was nine months pregnant! The biblical account says nothing about a donkey, the cold, the month of December, or exactly when they went to Bethlehem. But the names of the people in the story were real people, not characters in a book. They lived in real time, not “once upon a time.” Real shepherds were protecting sheep in the night when a real angel, and then more real angels appeared and talked with them. That would be frightening! Yet, the shepherds were the first believers who decided to go and see for themselves that which they had been told about. It turned out to be true, and they saw their Creator as a little bundle, wrapped up in a manger. . .that sounds so much nicer than a feeding trough! Now we come to something that truly sets this story apart. Not only is it real, we are connected to this story even as you read this sentence. We are always at a distance from “Goodnight Moon” or “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” They were stories. We are in the Christmas Story. It’s living now. The Baby is an adult in heaven. What has resulted as of that night, made possible for you and me to enter into the ongoing story of that grown up Baby. I don’t know if you ever think about the words of the carols you have been singing. Many of the verbs in the carols are present tense: “O come ye, come ye to Bethlehem, come and behold him, born the King of angels,” “Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning,” “Silent night, holy night all is come, all is bright,” “Hail, the heaven born prince of peace, Hail the Sun of Righteousness,” “O holy night, the stars are brightly shining, it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth,””O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,” “Come to Bethlehem and see, him whose birth the angels sing.” Why all the present tense verbs? It’s something that happened long ago. There is a significant theological reason and a Greek word for it (of course)! The word is anamnesis. The concept is bringing the Christ event that happened in the past into the present. The impact of the event is timeless, that is, because of Jesus, what happened is living in the present. Christ is outside of time, yet at the same time, present in our time. Because we are in Christ, (“if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation”), we can sing present tense. When we sing these carols, we are not singing about something in the past, we are there. It’s not pretending, it’s real because of Christ. The Jewish people practice this very thing as they observe Passover every year. Remember the question the children ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In the remembering of that night, the past is brought into the present. It’s not recreating. It’s impact is continuous and eternal. “O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord.”
Music: “Fanfare and Carol, O Come, All Ye Faithful” arr. David Wilcocks Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble and Bach Choir
Bonus: “O Come, All Ye Faithful” Voctave WOW!!! Tremendous, 11 singers a cappella
Almighty God, we give Thee thanks for the mighty yearning of the human heart of the coming of a Savior, and the constant promise of Thy Word that he was to come. In our own souls we repeat the humble sighs and panting aspirations of ancient men and ages, and own that our souls are in darkness and infirmity without faith in Him who comes to bring God to man and man to God. We praise Thee that Thou hast drawn us into Thyself and hast not left us out of Thy story, the best of all stories. O God, prepare Thou the way in us now, and may we welcome Thy Holy Child anew day by day. We pray that the glorious day of Thy birth may lead to the glorious day of new birth for multitudes of Thy children. In the name of Jesus. Amen.
―from Prayers Ancient and Modern, p.360, Samuiel Osgood, 1862, adapted Daniel Sharp
Reminder: the Sharp Devotionals go all the way to Epiphany, January 6th.