How good to hear the Christmas story once again, as told in our Bible readings this evening. How wonderful to have this opportunity to sing carols together and to share in the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ.
Mary and Joseph started out on their journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem with only the faintest inkling of what might be in store for them. Like any couple expecting their first child, there must have been a whole bundle of emotions, excitement and fears. And then, of course, there were those messages given to them by the angels.
The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a distance of some 80 miles, is a difficult route over rough terrain. Joseph had to travel to his family town of Bethlehem, together with his fiancée Mary, because the Roman authorities had decided there should be a census of the local population. It was a long, hard journey for both of them, Joseph on foot and the heavily pregnant Mary riding on a donkey.
The Shepherds, who were looking after their sheep on the hills around Bethlehem, had a shorter journey to make to get to the manger. Again, it was those angels who brought them the good news and who sent them down from the hillside to see and welcome the new born baby.
The wise men from the East, travelled much further than anyone else, across deserts and through foreign lands. A testing journey in many ways but they were led to the right place, guided by the bright star, to find their way to the manger where they could pay homage to the new prince.
Who was it said it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive? Perhaps it’s what you say in response to the cry ‘are we there yet?’ Well, the characters in our story definitely all arrived at a key point in history, a life changing event for us all. With the result that we can definitely all now travel in hope, knowing that Jesus has arrived.
And so, tonight, we have all done some travelling to find that simple crib. Individual journeys starting from many different places – from work, from home, from school, all with our various life experiences and expectations, the young and the young at heart, brought together to consider and confront the baby Jesus. All of us with lessons learnt or discarded over the years, approaching the Crib from our various points of view – of hope and love and doubt, of interest and disinterest, of wonder and of scepticism. Journeys that have arrived at this crossing point, at this moment, at this present, here to consider and remember that a little baby, the gift of a loving God, has come to change the world and to make all the difference for you and for me.
As the angel said to the shepherds: ‘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 Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.’
I hope all your Christmases will be filled with great joy and excitement, the same joy and excitement shared by those who first travelled to that manger in Bethlehem. Of course, for Jesus and for humankind that birth is only the beginning of the story, a story of love and hope that continues for today and into the future. In the coming weeks and months I hope you will continue your individual journeys of exploration and discovery, to receive and accept those good tidings of great joy so you might become part of that living story.