One of the things that I enjoy doing when I get time is reading encyclopaedias, a strange pursuit you might say. But one of the things when you read encyclopaedias is that you come across strange facts. Do you know for instance that there is a psychological disorder that some people have that makes them believe they are cows? Do you know that the human nose can detect 50,000 different scents? Do you know that marmite is the most confiscated items at UK airports? Bullfrogs don’t sleep! In Amsterdam if you die without any relatives or friends a poet will make up a poem for you and recite it at your funeral. Magpies can recognise themselves in the mirror. Baked beans are not baked but stewed. You might think you could have lived without knowing those things, but all true!
There are some interesting facts out there about Christmas. Germans made the first artificial Christmas tree with goose feathers. Americans send 3 billion Christmas cards each year. IN AD 350 Pope Julius decreed that the annual celebration of Christmas would be 25th December. According to the Guinness record book the biggest Christmas tree was 221ft Douglas fir. Bolivians celebrate Christmas eve with a Mass of the rooster, believing that the rooster was the first animal to announce the birth of Christ. In Puritan England Christmas was banned.
If these facts seem strange to us, there is nothing actually more strange than the story of Christmas itself. A young girl having a baby without a human father. Angels appearing to tell people the birth of this child. Shepherds and wise men visiting this child. A cruel king wanting to put this child to death, so set upon this that he kills every child in a certain age group. The child they claim to be the son of God come on earth. There is nothing so strange as the Christmas story.
If we find Christmas a strange story then to be sure there are some strange things going on in the world today that are hard to believe. There are 15000 nuclear warheads in the world. One ordinary nuclear warhead detonated over a city can destroy every living thing in the city and everything within a 50 mile radius. USA spends 25 billion dollars every year on nuclear weapons. 11.3% of the world suffers from hunger – 805 million go undernourished. 99% of worldwide hunger exists in underdeveloped countries. 1 in 15 children that die, die from hunger related illnesses. 536 million people in Asia live in a situation of hunger. The drought in Africa in 1984-1985 resulted in 750000 deaths.
The strange story of the first Christmas is no stranger than some of the things around us which we find hard to believe that people can get away with, can consider right. The great thing about the Christmas story is in actual fact it is connected to all that brokenness and strangeness of things around us. It is for this very reason that the child of Bethlehem is born, and has come into the world, to fix, to mend, to heal and redeem, those things that are strange, unbelievable and shameful in the world To win them back, to raise them up. The prophecy of Isaiah says that when the messiah would come he would give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, set prisoners free. In other words, the messiah, will mend a broken world.
If you didn’t know the story of Christmas and was hearing it for the first time, its an eye opener and no doubt, a tear jerker, a story that puts you on the edge of your seat. A girl with child, a man marrying her and bringing up the child. An old woman having a child that she longs for. Shepherds coming to see the young girl’s child, kings and wise men travelling a long distant see to see the sight, coming because the angels tell them coming because they are led by a new star. The child and its parents saved from the jaws of death, escaping to safety. It’s a story that has its heroes and villains, it has a story which has sadness and joy, it’s a story that has its cliff hangers and it has its ooh and aah moments.
It is a story that touches the human heart. The vulnerability of the young girl; a man doing the right thing; an elderly woman’s longings for a child of her own; surprising visitors who turn up kind of uninvited; the main-players passing from danger to safety.
But in these events we know that what we are listening to have a deeper truth, what we are listening to in this story is the tenderness of God. God who come into the world in such a way. God who could make himself so fragile, vulnerable. God who could wish to come among us as one of us.
What we are listening to is the tenderness of God. God who cares about the world. God who cares for each of us. God who wishes to heal the brokenness of human lives that is out there. God who wishes to raise us up. God who wishes to put us back together. God who wishes to banish darkness from the world and human hearts. All of this is contained in this story and is its real meaning.
What we are listening to in the Christmas story is the tenderness and kindness of God himself. He is not in the far side of the universe. He is not cold and indifferent to our lives. He neither hates us nor is he indifferent to us. He loves us and to shows how much he loves us, he comes in the silence and the star filled night of Bethlehem. In that night of danger for Mary and Joseph he comes into the world as the tiny and poor child of Bethlehem.
At Bethlehem he says that the world can be redeemed by this child. The world can be saved from destruction and violence and dark forces of the human heart by this child. He says that love that is in this child will redeem mankind. He says that human misery can be banished. No child has to die from hunger, no poor family should get a closed door at our borders, no city or town or country need live in fear of nuclear destruction.
The birth of this child of Bethlehem should change everything. This a world redeemed, put back together, raised up, mended and healed by the coming of the child of Bethlehem.
This child who opens in his eyes on the stable of Bethlehem opens his eyes on a new world. This child raises his and extends his arms to people who have waited for him and longed for his coming.