As I sat down and read Luke’s account of Jesus Birth four words stood out to me “so they hurried off” … I couldn’t get past them because, taken out of context, they summed up a lot of how people talk about Christmas time and the emotions and reality that goes with this time of year.
Life seems to speed up…we hurry off… there is the hurry of exams and end of school things, the end of work dos… then we hurry to finish off the shopping, and the planning and the wrapping and the decorating and the baking and getting ready for the supposedly leisurely, relaxed Christmas family gatherings and end of year celebrations…
We hurry to finish everything off so we can go away on our summer holidays and relax. We hurry to complete all those jobs that need doing, the end of year accounts, the things that just won’t wait till we get back, and telling those who will just have to wait till we get back that they will just have to wait till we get back.
Sadly the news has told us of the hurry of the Salvation Army and the City Mission to pack food parcels and get ready to feed lots of people and try to keep pace with the amount of need they are being asked to meet this year
… and on the other side of the coin on the news we were told that retailers were waiting for that Christmas rush to kick in, hoping that we all would hurry off to their store and buy, buy, buy.
Last Saturday it seemed to have kicked in because it was bumper to bumper down the motorway as people seemed to be hurrying somewhere to do something, but no one was getting anywhere in a hurry.
And a lot of them must of hurried off on holiday because on Monday morning I was waiting at the pedestrian crossing on Great South Road and normally it’s the ironically slow crawling congestion of rush hour…but it seemed like the city was deserted… our part of Auckland was like a sleepy country town… in fact the only vehicle waiting at the lights was an old Massey-Ferguson tractor.
In the midst of our ‘and they hurried off’ we can miss the context of those words we can miss the wonder of the coming of Jesus Christ. In a devotion I read recently the author talked of trying to de-clutter and de stress his December… To make room for the important things… His family and celebrating his faith… But sadly he wasn’t managing to do it, he was defeated in his efforts. This story comes from the northern hemisphere and one of things that really concerned him was that he would miss his young son’s preschool midwinter production as it clashed with a business meeting. When he had mentioned this to his son’s teacher she had said that parents who couldn’t make it to the production were able to come to the dress rehearsal on the morning of the show.
Relieved he went along and watched as his son and the other children preformed classic secular Christmas songs like Rudolf the red nosed reindeer and jingle bells… But he was also aware that he had to keep an eye on the time… he’d have to hurry off afterwards. The kids last song was called Christmas Love and they stood along the stage holding cards with letters they had decorated to spell that out… but the shy young girl holding the “M” had held her card up upside down so it formed a “w”… the man said in that God reached through his lso they hurried off’ to focus him again on what was of paramount importance You see it spelled out “ Christ was Love”
And you know when you come to a midnight Christmas Eve service the last thing you want to be reminded of is the ‘so they hurried off” of life. I’m sorry for doing that but there is something in those words, when we view them in context that are important for us…
We are so used to the Christmas story that we forget that Christ’s birth almost went without notice that first Christmas. It wasn’t even a blip on the busy world stage of its day. Luke starts his account quit rightly with who the world would have said was the most important person the roman emperor Caesar Augustus. He had come to power after a bloody civil war between his father Julius Caesar and Mark Anthony and quite rightly could be seen in roman eyes as the saviour of the world, the roman world, and the prince of peace, pax roma, won and maintained by over whelming military power. He definitely wanted the title ‘lord” and as he set up the worship of his father as a god he could even clay claim the title ‘son of god’. He asserted his authority by declaring a census… He wanted everyone to register so they could be taxed, he had an empire and an army to maintain.
So everyone had to hurry off to their town of birth to register, Even Joseph and Mary, even though Mary was pregnant, and it was such an upheaval that all the guest house rooms were booked solid. And in all the hurry it would be easy to miss another four words that as a father of Four I can tell you demand our attention… “The time came for …” the time came for Mary’s son was born. In the humblest of circumstance a new King was being born, in the humblest of circumstance the true king was being born, in the humblest of circumstances a saviour was born not to save a political or social system in this world but rather as Mary was told to save God’s people from their sins. Not to do quash conflict and resistance but to bring about peace with God and through that a chance to be reconciled with each other. The true Lord, because as John tells us in this child Gods word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.
It could have gone unnoticed except for angels appearing to a group of shepherds, people on the margin of their society, who were going about their everyday or every night work, watching their sheep, caring for their flock. They are told the good news a descendant of David, a king is being born, who is the saviour and the Lord, and that they will find him lying in a manger in an animal’s feeding trough.
When the angel left it tells us ‘so they hurried off’ they hurried off to see what they had been told was true, and when they found the baby they knew it was true. And their hurrying off is an example for us of how to respond to the Good News of Christ birth and who he is and what he has come to do for us… They hurried to see if it was true… It is an example for us in our lives to come look and see… to come and to see and to know and to put our trust in the one who is God's chosen king and saviour… Jesus Christ. For them it was a one off event but for us it is a continuing journey… to come and see Christ the Child...yes... but to come and to see Christ the man who spoke of grace and God’s truth, a new way to live … to come and see the one who gave his life on the cross… that all we had done wrong could be forgiven… to see Jesus raised from death and alive again… to come and see Jesus who invites us to follow him.
The shepherds didn’t stop hurrying once they have seen it is true… they hurry off to tell anyone who would listen about what they had seen and heard and about what they knew… They are witnesses to who Jesus is. They return to their everyday life, their every night work giving thanks and praising God. To come and to see the truth of who Jesus, born in a manger is, is to be changed and transformed to become conveyers and witnesses to that Good News. To give thanks and praise to God for who Jesus is and what he done for us… May you take the time this Christmas to stop and be still… and then to hurry off… and see and know Christ…