Gospel means good news. And good news is at the heart of the nativity. Notice Luke 2:10-11. The angel brought good news (Gospel) of great joy. But there’s a problem. It isn’t the angel or the events surrounding the heavenly announcement. The problem is us. How? We often forget a very important thing when we read Scripture. It’s this:
Scripture tells us about real people, in real time, with real challenges and real questions.
So I have a Christmas gift for you. My goal is move your eye away from the ‘greeting card Christmas.’ I’d like to turn your gaze from the nativity scene on the church lawn to a place removed from lights and traffic. And I’d like to borrow a ‘prop’ from Charles Dickens.
The Gospel: Good News
We always see A Christmas Carol during the holiday season. But this year…we seem to have been consumed with it. We saw a local theater production of the musical version. And we’ve seen various versions of Dickens’ classic work on television this month. So that’s probably why a Dickens character comes to mind. But it isn’t Scrooge!
Push everything but this page out of your mind. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly. The night has come. There is a figure beside you. You see a gesture. It says: Follow me. So you touch the robed figure. And suddenly you are on a journey with the ghost of Christmas Past.
A few things are missing. Your Christmas tree has vanished. There are no twinkling lights hanging from the eaves. And your holiday decorations have evaporated! There are no gifts and no colorful wrappings. You have arrived in a distant, but somehow familiar, place.
The things present are recognizable yet odd. So you start walking toward glimmers of light in the distance.
The Gospel: Real People
Your steps follow a rough, narrow path. It’s well worn from much travel. The flickering lights seem to get bigger as your steps take you closer. A little village comes into view with each passing step. And as that realization comes to your mind your nose takes note. There is a heavy scent of smoke in the air. And the smoke brings the scent of food (several foods!). It must be coming from houses in the village. But they are small. And their shapes seem strange to your eye.
Between you and the village is a lone structure. It’s definitely on the very edge of the settlement. And as you step toward it another scent makes you pause. It’s manure. What’s up with that? Being mindful where you step you reach for a light. But your iPhone is gone. It’s on the list of things left behind. As you get closer, the pungent scent hangs heavy in the air. And somehow you know two things: you’ve come upon a barn and you know why it’s on the outskirts of the village. It stinks! But there’s a little light inside and that seems odd. So you step closer.
You approach quietly and find a large door slightly open. The scene inside seems surreal. Smoke and light are coming from a small fire on the dirt floor of the barn. Just a few feet away a girl is asleep in a pile of hay. She appears to be in her mid teens. Her long dark hair is littered with small pieces of the straw. Her clothes are dirty. And she seems to have collapsed in that place from sheer exhaustion. Your mind won’t let go of the question: What has happened for one so young to be in this place in this condition?
The Gospel: A Realization
Near the girl is a newborn. He also sleeps in the hay; hay in the animals’ feeding trough. That must have seemed better than putting a baby down in the dirt. The wrappings are dingy and a little bloody. Watching over them both is a man tending the fire. And then it hits you. You know what this is. You know who these people are. But you never thought it looked like this! And then several other things begin to cloud your thoughts.
The Gospel: A Real Savior
Somewhere in your memory is a sermon or Bible study lesson. God told His people they must take in the stranger and the traveler. How could things in this barn be this way? And then another memory pops into your mind:
He came unto His own and His own did not receive Him. (John 1:11)
It all comes back to you! You are in a Jewish village. Surely one of those people would have shown the hospitality God required. But your shoulders droop because you know they didn’t. The village inn is just several yards away and there wasn’t room there, either. So here, just above the dirt and filth of dirt floor in village barn, Mary gave birth to her Son. How strange that nobody found room for the One Who created the animals, the grass that was the hay, the stars, and heavenly chorus of angels. Here is the reality of Christmas. And it doesn’t look like a Christmas card.
Love really did come down at Christmas. It is a Love too great to be hindered by a dirty stable.
You feel yourself being pulled back to your own time and place. And as you are going you see some shepherds arriving. They fit right in. Shepherds were the lowest of the low class. And they probably smelled about like that stable. But they heard Good News of Great Joy. And they found room in their lives, their work, and their schedules to worship the Savior. Will you?
Soli Deo Gloria!