I've told the story before. Two Christmases in a row. I can't repeat the same angles covered the last two years. But my needs are the same. I fervently want Christians to celebrate Christ's birth. I want you to know the story correctly, because by knowledge you'll be able to enjoy getting to know the middle eastern people, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus Christ himself.
I want you to say, "Merry Christmas!" and I don't want you to tolerate "Happy Holidays." There are more holidays in February, including one goofy little day called "Valentine's Day." You and I don't call it a holiday do we? We call it what it is.
Christmas--much more than a holiday for you, but you're not even sure why. You want...
You want the courage to celebrate Christ's birth...Christmas.
Or you want to be like everyone else. You want to give gifts and fill stockings, coo at magnificent chocolate and colorful blinking lights. And fireplaces will be stoked, even in Florida and California. Even the warm states whimsically sing about their desires for white Christmases, ham and hot chocolate. And at the right moment, you just might recite nostalgic poems about quiet mouses, milk and cookies and fake fat guys with greased up coats so they can slide down your chimney.
You want to believe a cute story about a Benevolent Caesar, a mean-hearted Herod, and a calm but hurried Joseph and Mary. So, I've thought of a way to tell you what I want you to see. You get to choose which story you want to celebrate though. You can take the following story and run with Christmas the way its always been done...go ahead, it'll be warm and fuzzy and cute. Or you can read the scriptures and know the truth.
Here it is, a third way, a third year. Next year, I'll do it again.
So Caesar says, "Be Counted! But you, Jews, must go to the place of your origin!"
Caesar Agustus comes up with an idea to count people in his kingdom--a census, in part to help him figure out how many taxes can be collected. So, everyone gets packed and ready to go.
A pregnant Mary and an adoptive father Joseph turned toward each other, each with worried expressions. Joseph devises a plan. They must leave, and they must leave tonight!
So in less than an hour Mary begins packing and Joseph sets off to make a deal for the fastest donkey in the Nazareth area. He finds his brother there. Phillip his brother also needs a racing donkey. They both find the perfect racing donkey for them...and it happens to be the exact same racing donkey! They fight over this one particular donkey--one a little taller, stronger and sleeker than all the rest of the donkeys. It almost comes to fists, but the owner of the racing donkey facility broke it up and said, "Look, this really is about money." So Joseph was a bit more successful with his carpenter business and had a few more sestarius and an extra gold coin, and so his brother was out of luck.
So Joseph hopped on the donkey and made him run home...kind of a warm up for the journey the donkey would carry them through.
They got home and Mary, who'd solicited some help from another sister, Babette. Babette had packed already, but her husband was slow, and so she came to help her pregnant sister.
Now Joseph was kind of competitive and he wanted to be the first of his family to be counted in the town of their ancestors, Bethlehem. For some reason it was important--he needed the leverage I suppose.
So he kind of rudely said, "Mary, we gotta go!" He got the donkey ready very quickly, then, went into the house to retrieve something.
So, since Joseph was not there to help Mary get onto the donkey, Babette cupped her hand so Mary could use her as a step to get onto the donkey. Mary had mentioned that this racing donkey was quite tall.
But, what the ladies didn't know is that Joseph in his spare time had built a step stool. When he got the racing donkey home he thought, "My new step-stool would work perfectly for Mary!" He came running out of the house with the step-stool just as Mary was putting her foot into her sister's cupped hands.
"No no Babette! You're playing with our babies life doing that!" Joseph said. "What if she falls?" And to add some weight he added, "Our baby is God's son!"
"Oh Joseph, I'm a strong working woman, i've done this before, you know that...and stop being so melodramatic ya big goofball."
"Stop it Babette, I have made this step-stool, don't you see?"
Mary smiled at the two competitors, and put the step stool in front of the obedient donkey, stepped up and sat on the donkey.
"Joseph honey, we have to go."
"Right," replied Joseph, somewhat curtly.
And so they set off into the desert. Joseph, being in good shape was still no match for the racing donkey. Mary was a bit of a novice, but this racing donkey had been trained well. So when Mary noticed that Joseph was three or four hundred paces behind, Mary said, "Slowwww donkey," and the donkey slowed to an easier gait. Joseph caught up breathing hard. He was kind of mad, and he wacked the racing donkey on the butt, and it lurched forward, but then stopped walking altogether.
"Slow down donkey! What the world man?" Joseph was exasperated.
This was not the talking donkey told from the scrolls, so the donkey said and did nothing. Joseph secretly wished the donkey could apologize.
Ten minutes passed. Joseph sucked down half of one of the canteens before he was ready to go. He gave the command and they all trotted off. They should still be there first. They only had a few kilometers to go.
"Oh no Joseph!" said Mary. She looked terrified. "I just had a terrible contraction."
"We better hurry."
So they picked up the pace, but Mary's contractions were already three minutes apart.
So they ran. The racing donkey was ahead of a running Joseph. Adrenaline streamed through Joseph, who was also very strong, and he ran faster than he'd ever run. The racing donkey seemed relaxed and was in good shape, and of course was a ways ahead of Joseph, but not too far.
All of a sudden...
"Oh no," said Mary to no one really, Jospeh was too far behind. Her water had broken all over the racing donkey.
"Gross," said Mary. "Giddyup racing donkey!"
So the racing donkey took off like a flash. Poor Joseph could only yell, "Wait wait!" but to his credit, he had something extra in his legs and really picked up the pace.
The donkey covered 7 kilometers like a flash of lightning. Mary was really happy about the racing donkey. So, they got to town and Mary started to talk to people on the edge of town saying, "My water broke all over this racing donkey here and I'm going to have a baby soon, and this baby is going to be God and so we need a room!"
But she was a woman, and she was talking crazy. A few people took pity on her crazy plight, and put a couple of coins in the water cup hanging from the racing donkey.
Meanwhile Joseph made it to town and fell over at the gate, dirt cased his lips. The wind had come up a bit and it was dusty out there. The racing donkey took off with the canteens and so what was he going to do?"
He found Mary and the racing donkey. Mary was crying.
"Mary, what happened, you took off like a shot lady!"
"My water broke," she said, tired. "And I hate this town, no one will give us a hotel room."
So Joseph, being a man, had more credibility, and began asking hotel owners for room...it was a patriarchal system, what were they gonna do?
"We are in the line of David!" yelled Joseph. "We are in the family of the King, we need a room!"
"I'm sorry," everyone said, "The Sprintolicum Camel Cup is tomorrow, and all the best camel racers are here. The town's just full of fans."
Mary tried to dry off the racing donkey, but the contractions were terribly painful, so she said down and tried to breath slowly. Her doctor Amin Pater Lamaas gave her some ideas about breathing.
One guy from a small inn far away from the racing grounds finally gave them something positive.
"I own an old cave," he said. "You can have that. There's animals though."
"No problem man," said Joseph, relieved. "I'm around animals all the time! We just need to give birth to God tonight and we got a later start than I wanted, y'know how that goes."
"I do, I'll see what the town doctor is doing, and he can maybe help you!"
"Oh, one thing," stammered the inn owner, "These Bethlehem December nights get kind of cold, take these blankets."
"You're very kind," said Joseph. Mary simply whimpered.
So Joseph and Mary, and a goopy racing donkey headed to the cave. But Mary knew they couldn't wait for the doctor. Jesus wanted to be born faster than the doctor could get here. So Mary leaned back against a hay bale and said,
Joseph reached out his hands and caught their son, whom they named Jesus, as he popped out of the womb. God births faster than most babies. Added to that, the boy, Jesus, never cried, not even once. And the animals were silent. Joseph and Mary were both amazed.
Meanwhile thousands, maybe thousands upon thousands of singing angels appeared in the barley fields where sheep slept and simple shepherds watched over them, while playing an competitive marble game. These angels smiled deeply. Their teeth flashed like lightening. The angels clamored about joyfully, warming up their voices while taking their places on the celestial choir stands. But the several weak and meek shepherds hated music, and the light from the Angels was very bright, which also irritated them. Added to that, they had never seen Angels before, so they dropped down to the ground in fear. All-the-while, the Angels were sweetly singing o're the plain. One big angel who called himself Michael (the shepherds, who weren't very learned, still thought to themselves that they remembered hearing about an Angel Michael from the readings in the Synagogue, and wondered if this Michael was the same Angel) tapped the shoulders of the Shepherds and said, "Don't be afraid, we're just a choir man!" The head shepherd (called the "Master Shepherd) looked up bravely at the angels.
"Go and find Jesus in the cave, he is God," said Michael the Angel. "These Bethlehemites didn't even care that this family was in the line of a very famous king, king David. And they couldn't care less that Mary's water had broken all over the racing donkey. So, he's in a cave nearby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Shouldn't take long."
Meanwhile, all the animals in the cave, Mary, Joseph and Jesus, had grown golden halos over their heads. Mary and Joseph and Jesus's halos were more pronounced though, and you could see lots of colors in theirs.
Night moved toward early dawn. Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the recently arrived shepherds, and three wise men, whose visit surprised and confused the small family, all bowed before the manger; and swayed side to side while the angel's concert continued over them.
But it wouldn't last long...danger by the name of King Herod and his mean Roman Soldiers would upset this peaceful little scene very soon, and Mary, Joseph, a desperately young Jesus, who shouldn't be traveling yet, would have to take up their gear and their racing donkey and flee to Egypt.
to be continued...
Or you could believe what I read in Revelation 12 and in Luke 2. The angels were an army...a host of them there to fiercely guard the birth of Jesus Christ. Scripture also says in Luke 2, "And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should give birth." They got there in plenty time...days ahead even, and probably not in December.
You could also understand that the word "Inn" does not mean "Hotel." If you must know, it means "House." What you should know is that the stable was attached to the house and probably in an open room next to the "living" room, so that heat could be transferred throughout the building. Simple village homes in Palestine, and in homes in that general region often owned animals but did not have separate storehouses for them, but instead kept them in an adjacent room. Homeowners brought their animals in to be cleaned, and to prevent the theft of their animals.
Homes often had a room for guests, technically called a "prophet's chamber" (see 1 kings 17:19). The main room was a family room where they cooked and lived.
You should believe that they, being in the town of king David, in the Lineage of King David, wouldn't be treated badly. The Middle Eastern culture took (and take) their lineages very seriously. Furthermore, this was the first census where Jews were affected and so Mary and Joseph were not alone. They were there with family most likely. Furthermore, Elizabeth lived only a short distance away, and if it really came down to it, they could go there. Mary was there for three months for cryin-out-loud. They were there for days, and another guest of a friend or family member was in the prophet's quarters, and so they slept in the living room, next to the stable. And, there was no bed for a baby in the living room, so they used a manger from the stable. Maybe they had to make some room in the stable area? It was most likely very clean.
Either way, they were there for days--no rush--no racing donkey on whom Mary's innards spilled. In fact, there was no mention of a donkey in the story at all.
And the angels were a fierce and loyal bunch...and ready for anything. And the shepherds were sick with fright and you would be too. But the angels were there to pronounce birth of the one who would bring peace to the world, and the Shepherds had needn't not be afraid--all that is true.
Read Luke 2, Matthew 1 and Revelation 12. Then celebrate. Celebrate confidently, and celebrate with a mighty force.