Welcoming strangers

The birth of Jesus brought great joy to Mary and Joseph, but it also involved significant trauma. The news that Mary was pregnant seriously threatened her reputation for purity and integrity in her home village of Nazareth. The circumstances of the birth were extremely difficult as Mary gave birth to her first child in a stable, in a strange town, without the support of family and friends. Then, soon after the birth, Joseph had a dream in which an angel of the Lord told him, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” So they left Bethlehem at night and went to Egypt to live in exile while Herod sent soldiers to kill all boys in Bethlehem under the age of 2. It was several years before Mary and Joseph and Jesus returned to their home village of Nazareth.

In our world today there are many people who have left their home countries in fear of their lives. Some have been threatened by the political powers in their country, others fear religious persecution. They have experienced significant trauma in leaving their home country, family and friends and settling in a strange place.

The Bible teaches Jews and Christians to welcome strangers and to be kind to them. The reason we should do this is that the Jews experienced slavery in Egypt until the God brought them out into freedom. Many of the early Christians also experienced persecution and had to flee to places of safety. The kindness we show to people from other countries living amongst us is a response to the kindness we have experienced from God.

A few years ago a young couple from the Middle East arrived in Britain as refugees. They were facing persecution in their own country. When they arrived in Britain they were detained in separate holding centres. It was their first experience of Britain and they were afraid, especially as the wife was expecting her first child. In the centre she was given a Bible and read these words from Psalm 42, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Through these words God spoke to her and gave her his peace.

The Child who changed the world

Last weekend there was travel chaos at Heathrow airport. The airport was closed because of the heavy snow and icy conditions. Thousands of people arrived at the airport to find their flights cancelled. Many decided to wait hoping the situation would improve. The terminals were crowded with people and their cases as some slept the night on the floor. Old people and parents with children struggled to cope. The airlines were overwhelmed and help lines were jammed. The hotels were full and taxis were hard to find. The Christmas plans of many people have been cancelled.

It was like that in Bethlehem when Mary and Joseph arrived. Thousands of people were travelling back to their home towns for the Roman census. Bethlehem was packed with people and the inns were all fully booked. Joseph desperately looked for a suitable place for his young wife to give birth to their first child. No one offered to help them. So in a dirty stable Mary gave birth to her first born son and laid him in the animals’ feeding trough. Hardly anyone seemed to notice, or care. Joseph and Mary gave their son the name Jesus because he would “save his people from their sins.” This child would change the course of history and bring great joy to millions of people.

Christmas is a busy time, even when there is no travel chaos. There are so many things to do. It is only too easy to overlook totally the One who is at the centre of it all. It is a pity that some people will not enjoy the holidays they have planned and that some families will not enjoy precious time together. Hopefully this can be done at a later date.

But will anything in your life change for the better this Christmas? Why not spend time thinking about what God did in sending his Son into the world? You could read one of the Gospels which tell the whole story. As you read, pray that God will help you to know him better. In John’s Gospel we are told “He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to his own and his own did not receive him, but to those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Good news of great joy

This year the big supermarkets are selling very few Christmas cards with Christian themes. The overwhelming majority of the cards they are selling have a “traditional” Christmas message. When asked why this had been done the reply was that this is what the majority of their customers want.

We are living in very difficult and anxious times for the whole world. The message of the birth of Jesus is just what we need. The baby who was born in Bethlehem is a beacon of light and hope in a dark world. God made sure that ordinary people, like the shepherds, knew that Jesus had been born. He sent an angel to announce the birth, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

Jesus is a great King and his was a royal birth, yet he did not come just for the rich and famous, but for ordinary people. The shepherds were working men and were spending a c old night on the Judean hills. They were not deeply religious men. Their conversation that night was, no doubt, about the things all men talk about when they get together. Then suddenly they were confronted with the glory of God, and were terrified. The angel spoke to calm their fears. He had good news for them which would bring joy to them and to all the people. A Saviour had been born, the Messiah had come!

As Christmas approaches you may have many fears and anxieties. You are thinking about all the things you have to do. You may be apprehensive about the coming year. How will you cope financially? Will you still have a job? What kind of world will your children and grandchildren grow up in?

The shepherds teach us something very important. After the angels had gone they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” After they had seen the baby Jesus they returned to their fields “glorifying and praising God.” Jesus is the one we all need, whatever the supermarket chiefs think. He came from heaven to give great joy to people like you and me. So why don’t you find out more about him this Christmas? After all Christmas is all about him!

To us a Son is given

The birth of a child is a very special time. The birth of a second son last week to a young couple we know has brought great joy to the whole family. More than 2000 years ago a young engaged couple living in the little Galilean village of Nazareth had to come to terms with the fact that the young woman, Mary, was expecting a child. This was no ordinary child.

The angel Gabriel had visited Mary and told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David and his kingdom will never end.”
Mary replied, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” Mary humbly replied “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary is a great example to us of what it means to humbly trust God and his purposes for our life. She had been chosen for special privilege but this brought inevitable misunderstanding as people became aware that she was pregnant. They assumed, as, at first, did her fiancé Joseph, that she was guilty of immorality. Her reputation was tarnished. In order to protect her and the child Joseph married her, as he had intended to do.

The birth of Jesus was extraordinary. God broke into history. “He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all.” In Jesus, his Son, God intervened to give us new hope and purpose. So, too, God breaks into individual lives as he opens our eyes to see our need to know him so that we put our trust in Jesus. Steve has just become a Christian. Christmas has taken on a whole new meaning for him. He told me, “The things which used to mean so much to me don’t really matter anymore. The main thing for me now is that God loves me and sent his Son, Jesus, to be my Saviour.”