THE arrival of a new baby usually brings joy and a deep sense of gratitude and wonder, as his or her family celebrate the birth and do everything they can to welcome and care for the child.
I am sure that, when Jesus was born in the gloom and dirt of the Bethlehem stable, both Mary and Joseph were delighted and relieved at his safe arrival and that they gazed at him in wonder as they cared for him.
It’s likely that Jesus’ arrival was greeted with enthusiastic excitement by people in Bethlehem and their happiness was similar to the joy we feel when someone we know gives birth.
But Jesus’ birth, of course, wasn’t just brilliant news for his family and people who saw him. His birth was good news for the whole world – for everyone.
As the angel said to the shepherds: “Don’t be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David’s town your Saviour was born – Christ the Lord!”
Many Christmas cards and children’s story books have pictures of clean-looking shepherds gathered comfortably on pretty hillsides, being dazzled by the angels.
But, in reality, the first century Palestinian shepherds were very poor and often despised.
People looked down upon them; their working hours were anti-social and their lives were really tough.
And yet, God picked the shepherds to be the first to hear the news and have the chance to welcome their Saviour.
I think God did this deliberately to show us he cared about the shepherds and wanted us all to know that Jesus had come to the world for absolutely everyone.
And I am sure God also wanted us to realise his Son’s birth was good news for people whose lives were very difficult.
For some people, Christmas can be a difficult or unhappy time. Some people are very stressed because of financial worries, others know there will be significant tension and arguments at their family festivities, and others are really dreading this Christmas because of a bereavement or illness.
But, believe me, Christmas isn’t just for happy people. The good news of Christmas means God loves us all, that we have the hope of life beyond death and that we have a way to move on from past hurts or regrets and be at peace with ourselves.
Thinking about what Christmas is really about can help us feel better able to cope with our stresses.
Thanking God for Jesus and trying to be loving and helpful to our families and friends, and to people who need our support, doesn’t need to cost a penny!
All churches in our communities will be delighted to welcome you to their Christmas services and events.
May you and your loved ones have a joyful and peaceful Christmas. And my best wishes to you all for 2013.