The Magi have started their journey of discovery, travelling wherever the unique star they found is leading them. They have been at it for quite a while. Travelling at night and resting by day. The star still shines brightly at night. They are not at all discouraged. They have enough time and resources at their disposal. They intently look at the sky and reconfirm that they are on the right path. Eagerly, they await the unique discovery at the end of their trip – the child king.
The shepherds are watching their flock by night, as is usual with them, in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. They cover themselves with sheepskin against the cold winds and take turns playing the harp and singing praise songs to God. A shepherd’s job can be quite boring, but at night, they stay awake and keep watch over the sheep, to prevent the wild animals from taking from the flock. When they were not singing or playing the harp, they were exchanging stories about current events in the little town of Bethlehem. They had noticed an influx of travelers in recent times, as a result of Caesar’s decree and census. The little town was bursting at its seams. They wondered if and how long the visitors would stay. Business was certainly booming as a result. There was more demand for sheep to kill for food. And prices were going up, which was in their favour.
The innkeeper surveyed the little crowd of travelers who were waiting to be allocated rooms. They looked hungry and tired. He signaled to his wife who was busy settling a young family at a table to commence their dinner. She nodded at him and also followed his eyes, to see the little crowd of five people waiting patiently. They looked like they could sleep on their feet. He approached them with a wide smile, rubbing his hands together. If he ever had the opportunity, he would personally send a message to Rome, to thank Caesar Augustus for this arrangement of the census. Bethlehem had never had such a crowd of people coming into town, and all at the same time too, in compliance with Caesar’s decree. Immediately the influx of people began, he had quickly added a few more rooms to his inn, to accommodate the increase. Granted, the new rooms were not as nice or spacious, but they provided a place to rest for the weary travelers who trooped into town on a daily basis. These people would take anything; they were too tired and poor to argue. And they did not have much choice, as the alternative was sleeping outside in the cold. It briefly occurred to him that he might have to carve some more space out of the shack where he kept the animals, but he dismissed the thought. The people were not that desperate yet.
At about the same time, somewhere in the wilderness between Nazareth and Bethlehem, Joseph and Mary trudged on. The journey was taking too long and Joseph feared that Mary might be delivered of the baby in the middle of nowhere. He prayed for a miracle. He dared not defy Caesar’s decree by staying back in Nazareth until she had the baby, so they had embarked on the journey, prayerfully hoping they would make it to Bethlehem in time. Looking at Mary now, he was a bit worried that she was tiring from the journey and she looked ready to pop. He stopped the donkey, helped her down and started making preparations for the night. They would continue the journey the next morning, better to let her rest tonight.
So it was, that Bethlehem awaited the arrival of the Prince of Peace, without knowing what was to come. All of heaven was watching and waiting quietly for the manifestation of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world!
So, which one are you today? Are you the innkeeper, making a profit from Christmas? Are you the young couple, travelling under compulsion and with a deadline? Are you a shepherd, going about your normal duties, oblivious of what is to come? None of these roles are bad. Each shows the ignorance of mankind in our regular setting. We assume life will continue as it is, because we don’t know any better. Heaven knew the Prince of Peace was coming to earth. Mary and Joseph knew too but they didn’t have a full understanding of what that meant. All the innkeeper knew was that by Caesar’s decree, everyone was meant to return to their place of origin for the census, and this brought good business to town. The shepherds were oblivious. One night in the open was as good as any other.
As we go about our Christmas shopping, planning and activities, let us remember the reason for the season and let us make room in our hearts, to welcome the Prince of Peace. Let us celebrate deliberately, the eternal Gift of God to mankind.