That first Christmas gift is still the most precious

By Rev. Shay Craig

Scripture: Luke 2:1-7 (New Living Translation)

2 At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. 2 (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. 4 And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. 5 He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

Once, in royal David’s city . . .

In the passages that precede this one, Luke gives us so much detail, so much to think about. We know exactly what Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, was doing when the angel appeared to him. We know precisely how far along Elizabeth, John’s mother, was when Mary went to visit.  But here, in these verses where Jesus’ actual birth takes place, Luke gives us the bare minimum. Seven sentences.

 Perhaps it is because Luke gives so few details that we are so often and so wonderfully inspired to complete the picture with our own imaginings.

Rev. Shay Craig

This is a moment we recreate in every possible way. Count the nativity scenes you see over the course of the holidays--or even on your drive home from work. How many varieties are there? Who else is present--the shepherds, the animals, the Magi? We are fascinated by this tableau, and we have recreated it in myriad ways for centuries.

If this scene were in a movie, it would start with a panoramic view: a capital city, a sumptuous palace, the emperor of all of the Roman Empire in all his perceived power. There would be trumpets, and crowds, and parades.

Then the focus narrows, zooms in, to a small town, an insignificant rooming house, until finally it comes to rest on the stable and this young couple and their new baby. It’s just these three people. In a small room, faintly lit by golden candlelight. Warm, comforting, tranquil, intimate. Just these three people surrounded by their love for one another.

This is, I think, what makes it so magical. This little square of warm candlelight that spills out of the doorway. The peaceful moments where the holy family gaze at one another, treasuring one another. This is a special, sacred space out of time. In a world of chaos and hurry, violence, instability, fear and darkness, there is, in this moment, in these seven sentences, an oasis of . . . well, love.

Love that this new family has for one another. And love that God has for us. Because in that humble setting, in that quiet, ancient and eternal space, God has loved us all, as well. God has sent God’s only son, to be for us an oasis of compassion, mercy, justice and, yes, peace.  All of this and more is manifest in that precious moment, in that little square of light, in that little insignificant town, in the country that is very far away.

And they are manifest here in Hays, as well. In our homes and business, in our schools, and churches, and in our hearts.  This is the first gift of the first Christmas and still the most precious thing.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

May you find an oasis of warmth and light this Christmas. May you feel the awe and pride that Joseph felt, the contemplative joy that Mary felt, and may you feel treasured by the One who loves you unconditionally, just as you are.

Merry Christmas.

The Rev. Shay Craig is the Vicar of St. Michael’s and St. Andrew’s Episcopal Churches in Hays.