Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
Mary and Joseph in the stable: They had had a long and arduous journey, on busy roads and of course Mary due at any moment. Then there was the petty harassment of visitors, especially those in desperate need for shelter, the officiousness of the Romans and the suspicions of the townsfolk.
Their journey had brought them to Bethlehem too late to find any shelter, and the refuge of the stable would have to do.
But even this could be made to work. The other animals could provide warmth, and they would hope to attract little unwanted attention.
They might have been worse off for at least Joseph had a trade and there would have been a healthy demand for execution gibbets.
So Mary and Joseph also found that wherever they were, they could cope. Mary and the baby could rest and the morrow would look after itself.
The shepherds abiding in the field did not have a glamorous job. Prospects for advancement were probably few, and they had to be available 24 hours a day. They were exposed to the weather, to predators and of course to the owner of the sheep, and indeed to the market prices for live and for slaughtered sheep.
It demanded constant alertness for little reward. But it was to the shepherds of Bethlehem that the news was broken by no less that the whole company of heaven.
It was the cold and lonely and endangered who first heard the news – and were challenged to go and see for themselves. And that was at the risk of abandoning the sheep even of only for an hour or two.
But these were abiding – resting yet alert, waiting but at peace, fully aware of their position in the social and political and economic pecking-order, and so subject to all the resentments and jealousies and irritations that life could afford them, but still open to receiving the angelic word and of responding to it.
Herod’s court would have given short shrift to shepherds coming in with tales of angels and babies and stables and all.
But strange visitors from the desert – at least from beyond the Jordan – with tales of stars and kings and strange wisdom did at least guarantee an audience.
Here the atmosphere may have been more febrile, with all trying desperately to catch the King’s eye of favour without being executed on a whim.
This was not the place to speculate on kings, especially natural-born kings. Or of deliverance or of the stripping of arbitrary arrest and execution of their terror.
The Word came to His own (first) then to all: So the glory of God came and rested among His own people.
He committed Himself to their care – first of all to Mary and Joseph where He would grow up and learn His prayers and the traditions of His people. He would meet all the trials of living in society, especially one already stretched by foreign occupation and a particularly rigorous religious observance.
Mary and Joseph would teach Him within the limitations of His human life and body, even as His spirit quested for fellowship with God.
But He also came to the shepherds, ordinary people – those living on the edge, close to poverty, disease, assault, and petty-minded regulation.
These responded with joy at the message of His birth, and rushed into town, for this was no idle quest. And the baby they saw would change their lives.
Finally and later, there was the King’s court in Jerusalem with its amusements of who was in, who was out, who was still alive and who was about to die. This was much more entertaining than matters of holiness and justice and forgiveness and healing.
But of all of these characters in the drama, where would we stand and how would we receive Him?
He was in the world and the world came into being through Him; yet the world did not know Him. He came unto His own and His own people did not accept Him. But to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God.