And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2 10:11
There is a poem by Carl Sandberg that describes fog rolling in. He describes it thus: “it came in on little cat’s feet.” That is a beautiful description for fog, which can roll in off the sea and envelop a town like San Francisco. It is so quiet and it is so subtle. It is very much like little cat’s feet.
That is just how the kingdom of God entered this world some 2000 years ago. Quietly. Largely unnoticed. On little cat’s feet. The birth of a child under hard circumstances without a proper shelter would not have been very unusual at that time in that place. We do not read that any turned to note the event except the shepherds to whom a rather spectacular birth announcement had been delivered. The Magi appeared later after more housing that is suitable had been obtained for the Holy Family.
Great events are not always big events. The Super Bowl is a big event, but even if the game is good, which is pretty rare, no one beyond a sports nut would ever call it a great event. Presidential elections in the United States are big events, but few have really ever changed the world. Great events are not always big events.
When God wants to change the world, He does not seem to choose a big event to bring it about. The greatest event of all took place in a tiny corner of the Roman Empire, very much, what we would call “the sticks.” It attracted little immediate attention, but now it is the center of our lives. Along with Easter, it is the very source of all our hopes. God saw fit to reveal Himself in this way: the Son of God took on our human nature, wedded it with His divine nature, and was born in the person of Jesus of Christ; born of Mary, the Virgin Mother of the God-man.
This is God’s plan. Unexpected. Not really understood by contemporaries of this young child, even though they had the prophets before them who laid it out quite clearly. ”Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a son and you shall give Him the name Emmanuel” Matt 2, 23, that is, God-with-us. However, they did not understand this child was someone very special.
This is a great event. But He was born for one purpose only. That would happen some years later when that body, now grown, born of a woman, would be nailed to a tree There He would suffer and die in order that we might have life.
Even today, people do not understand what this day is all about. It is a time for some artificial happiness. It is a time to feast well. But what is “the reason for the season,” as they say, if it is not the fact that you and I were so lost, so unredeemed that God had to intervene in history in order to redeem us? For that is exactly what He did.
Christmas was a beginning; the culmination of that beginning in Bethlehem of Judea would come outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection when He would do battle once and for all with sin, Satan and death and defeat them all for our sakes.
This is the reason why we celebrate the Christmas season. It comes to us quietly in the stillness of the night, this mystery that begins to unfold in a little child. Who can plumb the depths of the mystery? “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” John 4, 14:15. That is the basis for the entire gift exchanging that we are involved in during this season. Separate Jesus from it and it becomes merely a sentimental shot of the arm for sales. Our faith tells us that it is much more than that.
I heard a story recently that I would like to share with you. A woman was out doing Christmas shopping with her two children. They were little toddlers. She was dragging them from store to store to store. She was looking at the shelves and making her choices and her purchases. The children were asking for everything that they saw, as children would do. She was weary. She had been preparing for Christmas for weeks with cooking and the cleaning and wrapping packages and making sure that all of the cards were sent.
Now it was over and she was in the top floor of the department store ready to go home. She pressed the elevator button and the elevator doors opened. It was already crowded. Nevertheless, she pulled the two little ones who had decided to sit down on the floor for a while. (If you are a parent, you know what it is like to have little ones that are not always receptive to what we want them to do.) Finally, she got them into the crowded elevator with all of her packages. Then the doors closed and she could not take it any more. She lost it! She said for everyone in that elevator to hear, “Whoever started this whole Christmas thing should be found, strung up and shot.” From the back of the car, everyone heard a quiet voice respond, “Don’t worry. We already crucified Him.” For the rest of the trip down, the elevator was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.
That, my friends, is the reason for the season. If this Christmas is not up to your expectations, if you have done, all that you have thought you had to do, and it still does not quite make it emotionally, you might remember that we are not celebrating a big event. We are celebrating a great event and God’s events come creeping in on little cat’s feet. If we are ever tempted to become discouraged about the season and about all that it means, we might follow the angel’s advice, “Go ye, even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass.” Luke 2, 15.