All through the crackling parchments of the Old Testament God had protested how much He loved man. At Christmas, on almost the first fresh page of the New Testament, He proved it.
But from the sights and sounds of our Christmases today would you ever be able to guess just how much God showed that love? From Christmas trees, and Santa Clauses and reindeer (including little Rudolph, the Red-Nose) and sleighs and sleigh bells and gay-colored lights and carols, even to the rainbow puddle of gift wrappings and ribbons on living room floors - from any of these, could you ever guess the strange and beautiful thing which God did that first Christmas Day?
Only a Christmas crib can tell the story. Only going back in spirit to Bethlehem and the Silent Night. But the day had not been silent. On the eve of the great census the little town was bulging with visitors, bustling with activity, buzzing with excitement. In the bazaar (the nearest approach to our department store or supermarket), merchants and customers were haggling over prices like chattering birds. In the streets, peddlers tramped from door to door offering bargains from baskets of goods. As street corner gypsies sang and danced and tumbled for the tossed pennies of the crowd. The high and mighty on their tall proud horses rode past with amused tolerance. And nobody notices - who ever would - a bearded peasant leading the donkey that carried Mary, even as Mary carried the unborn Christ.
Nobody noticed. Nobody cared. For Joseph and Mary, that first Christmas began with the saddest of feelings: the loneliness of not being wanted by anyone, not being welcomed anywhere. They were despised by the Romans because they were Jews, and despised by the Jews because they were poor. For them there was no room in the whole town. So out of town they trudged, seeking any kind of shelter at all.
At last they came in desperation to that stable-cave which G. K. Chesterton so appropriately called, "the place where only God was homeless but all men are at home." And there, where Joseph's lantern flickered from a beam, and the ox stomped restlessly in his stall, and the donkey blinked, and the pale, heavy-laden Virgin sank wearily to the floor, it happened. The CHILD was born. One moment He was not there, and the next He was in her arms, born without pain or pang or pause, the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus.
But this was not the wonder of Christmas, not the intact and instant Birth. Not even that a Virgin should become a Mother. Nor that a village carpenter should find himself the Guardian of the Savior of the world. Nor that a star should stream like a torch above a stable. Nor that an angel choir should shimmer in the sky and set the night resounding with brilliant music. Nor that shabby shepherds should kneel shoulder to shoulder with ermine cloaked kings. The wonder of Christmas, the glory of Christmas, the incredible miracle of Christmas was that God, no matter how or where or when, should become man!
He it was that the angels announced in song, that the star signaled with fire, that the shepherds rushed to see, that the Madonna clasped to her breast, that theologians call the Incarnation: namely, that He who was great became small, and He who was powerful became weak, and He who was rich became poor, that He who was divine became human.
Just to ponder this, just to sit down with yourself in a corner of your mind (when it is Silent Night there and all is calm and all is bright) and to realize this tremendous truth: THAT GOD SO LOVED MANKIND HE BECAME ONE OF US HIMSELF!
What can we do in return? It is not bells jangling overhead, or feet crunching on the snow beneath, or carolers singing before candle-lit windows that best express the spirit of Christmas. If we really love the Babe of Bethlehem, let us light candles not only in our windows but also in our minds. Candles that will illuminate the truth that all men are our brothers, and that all men have certain basic rights, ever since God became a man Himself. Let us hang not just our homes, but also our hearts with Holly. Let us show our love for our fellow men in our speech, not slighting this one or snubbing that one or keeping a sullen and surly silence toward another, but letting Christian (not just Christmas) kindness, which is rooted in the heart, flower at our lips. In fact, once we get beyond the walls of the church, how else can we best serve God except in our fellowman?