Like it or not, I guarantee that if you have been to shops or turned on the radio over the past month, you’ve heard them. You may have found yourself singing along and turning up the volume when your favourite comes on or maybe you’ve been changing stations and shaking your head because that same carol seems to be following you everywhere you go, as if each store is waiting for you to walk in so they can press play—and now it’s playing on repeat over and over in your head.
I’ll admit it: I’ve done a fair bit of shopping in my time. But never have I been at the shops and heard “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so” playing through the PA. Yet despite the increasingly secular society that we find ourselves living in, in December each year something pretty incredible happens. You might be walking down the bread aisle at your local supermarket or looking for the perfect present for that family member who is always the hardest to shop for. And then you hear it. “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright . . . Christ the Saviour is born! Christ the Saviour is born.” The lyrics of many carols tell us the age-old story: the story of Christ’s birth.
the road to Bethlehem
Under Roman decree, Joseph and his betrothed, Mary, travelled south from Galilee to Judea, from their hometown of Nazareth down to Bethlehem. At a distance of almost 150 kilometres, this was neither a quick trip nor a celebratory babymoon. It was a gruelling necessity: a week of walking through the barren desert, placing each sand-covered foot in front of the other, day after day. For Joseph, he was returning to the town of his ancestors, however weighing on his mind was the uncertainty of the future. His future, Mary’s future and that of their child. Where would they stay when they arrived in Bethlehem?
When would the child be born? How would he care for and provide for his new wife and child? For Mary, she was following her husband across the desert. Heavily pregnant, she would have been exhausted and no doubt each step she took felt heavier than the last. Anxious but expectant, she was soon to give birth to her first child. Now unable to see her dusty toes, the prominent bump she saw was evidence of God’s plan for her life and that of the child she held within.
Finally arriving in Bethlehem, the town was abuzz with weary travellers from every corner of the land. With so many guests having arrived over the course of the week, the little town of Bethlehem was unable to accommodate the new arrivals. There was no room at the Inn.
Relegated to a stable and surrounded by the animals and their stench, Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son. No crib for a bed, she wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in an animal feed trough. Christ the Saviour was born.
the Prince that was promised
For generations the birth of Christ had been foretold. From Samuel to Isaiah and Jeremiah to Micah, these ancient Jewish prophets had all foretold His birth—Jesus, Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Saviour to all people. But Jesus had been born in a manger. His parents had not even been able to secure a room for His birth. Upon His entrance into this world as a newborn baby, He was not greeted by religious scholars and kings; nor was His birth announced across the city. There was no “little drummer boy” as the carol suggests. Instead, in the hills nearby, an angel of the Lord appeared to some shepherds who were living out in the fields caring for their flocks. They were terrified but the angel comforted them saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
These shepherds had just been invited to meet Jesus. But what would they bring to meet Him? They had probably heard at least one of the prophecies foretelling the birth of the Messiah, but they were just shepherds, not religious scholars. They would not have dreamed of meeting Him, let alone be invited to the place of His birth. It was late at night and they were still at work. They had sheep to care for and protect, but they did not hesitate. They hurried off to find Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus, lying in the manger.
They did not stop on the way to buy a gift or bring an offering for the Lord like the wise men later did. No gold. No frankincense. No myrrh. They came just as they were, wearing the clothes they had worn all day, stained with the stench of sweat and sheep. Mary and Joseph welcomed them into the stable and into the presence of their newborn Son. They were not invited to lavish gifts upon Jesus. They were invited to see Him and share in His story. Moved by their experience, they shared their story and spread the word to all who would listen.
the gift that keeps giving
Just as the shepherds were invited to visit the baby Jesus, we are invited to encounter Jesus for ourselves. Unlike that family member who doesn’t appreciate the effort that went into purchasing the perfect gift for them, Jesus does not expect anything in return for His gift to us.
According to the biblical story, God chose Jesus to be born in a stable in Bethlehem with only cattle and shepherds to welcome Him, not because of what we might one day give to Him, but because of what He was able to give to us. He lived His life on this earth to give us the gift of eternal life, and that is not a gift that we can earn.
The shepherds didn’t worry about whether or not they were worthy to meet the Messiah because they had been personally invited to meet Him. They came to Him, just as they were. They had nothing to give Jesus, only themselves and their commitment to come to see Him.
This Christmas, don’t worry about the wise men and what they had to offer baby Jesus. Remember the shepherds. Remember that you don’t need to buy Him a gift and you cannot do anything to earn your invitation. Know that you have been personally invited to share your life with Jesus. You are invited to come, just as you are, to dedicate your life to Him and to receive the gift that He has already purchased for you: the gift of eternal life.
Brianna Watson is a solicitor specialising in family law based in Adelaide, South Australia. She is married with two corgis.