…all who heard were astonished…
The crowded Bethlehem streets yielded to the privacy and security of the place where Jesus was born. Visiting from away, Mary and Joseph must have been frantic with fear and apprehension. Jostled and pushed in the byways, looking for lodging, needing food after their journey, they needed to find a midwife and rest.
While of the house of David by descent, Joseph nonetheless sought out lodgings in spite of the hospitality we might expect of family today. The two of them were tired, and hungry. And the unfamiliar faces in the market place, in the doorways, reflecting their exhaustion only served to add to their frustration and panic.
The baby was due. Mary needed a place to rest. A private place.
The inn was already filled. Guests would have been taking a drink, perhaps eating a meal in the common area when Joseph learned that there was no more room. The responsibility of the moment weighed heavily on his shoulders. An alternative needed to be found!
And an alternative was found, and Mary gave birth to her son. Nursed and cleaned and wrapped in swaddling clothes, the baby was placed in a manger, cradled with straw.
Meanwhile, shepherds, unaware of Joseph and Mary’s difficulty, huddled in the chill night air tending their flock of sheep. The angel of the Lord who stood among them broke the quiet that surrounded them, and the darkness that engulfed them.
Fear had overcome the shepherds. A different kind of fear from that of Joseph and Mary, but fear nonetheless. Their own sense of powerlessness. Their own limitations to cope with the unexpected.
Peace filled a manger as well as the hearts of Joseph and Mary who beheld the baby at rest. So Peace filled the hearts of the shepherds and gave them assurances of God’s favour.
Relating their story to Joseph and Mary, and with others encountered on the way, the shepherds were met with astonishment.
Not much has changed.
This Holy Night we find our fears interrupted, as did those parents, as did those shepherds, by the Peace of God… and incredibly we, too, are astonished!
Copyright © 1998 James T. Irvine
penultimate WORD - Festivals of Light Series