Many years ago…

Sermon Christmas 2018 St Chad’s Linwood.

Reverend Felicity O’Brien

Hello, my name is Naomi. I live in a small town in Judea, only a day’s walk from the big city of Jerusalem. I want to tell you about something that happened when I was young, when Quirinius was the governor, one of those Romans we have to put up with.

My husband Nathan came home from the marketplace one day, and told me to expect visitors.

Why? I said. Apparently the Roman emperor had ordered everyone to go back to the town where they were born, to register so they could be taxed. Typical Romans. Well, with the good Roman roads that we had – there had to be something good about the occupation – more people had been travelling away from their hometown, so, when I thought about it, I realised that there might be quite a lot of people coming back. I started to think about all my friends who had left, and hoped I would see them again. I prepared the guest room on the roof of our house.

The month came for the registration, and sure enough, people came flooding in. Our good friends David and Miriam came back, and we were so excited to see them, and we were glad we had saved the guest room for them, because the town was full to overflowing.

The night after they arrived, Nathan said to me, you know who we haven’t seen? My cousin Joseph. He was born here. He’s a few years older than me. Do you remember him?

Not really, I said. What did he do?

He was a carpenter. He went up north somewhere, looking for work. I think he ended up in the Galilee area.

Well, he can’t stay here, I said. The guest room is full.

The next day it was getting dark when I heard a knock at the door. Nathan went to answer it – Joseph! He said, delighted! I was hoping I’d see you – I didn’t know…

Nathan called for me to come and meet him.

Nathan and Naomi, this is my wife, Mary, the visitor said proudly. The girl – and she was a girl too, very young, looked exhausted, slumped on the donkey like a pile of clothes. As she got down, it was clear that she was really pregnant, and needed to rest.

Oh dear, I said. We have nowhere to put you. The guest room is already full. But come in and we’ll find you a meal.

Nathan led the donkey into our stable, which was attached to the house, the way we all had them in those days. That way the animals were safe at night, and would keep the house warm, if a bit ripe! Their food trough was on the higher level of the floor where our living quarters were.

As Joseph and Mary came in, she winced, and bent over.

I thought you were close to your time, I said to her.

She smiled at me, and for a first-time mum without her own mother nearby, she seemed surprisingly calm.

This baby is special, she whispered to me.

They all are, dear, I replied.

I made her comfortable as her contractions got stronger, and the men kept out of the way, with Joseph casting worried glances every time she groaned. Between contractions she told me a strange and wonderful story about an angel, and a baby who would be the son of God! At first I thought she was delirious, but then I caught Joseph’s eye, and he nodded, and said, yes, the angel spoke to me too.

This baby is God’s son!

I didn’t know what to do with this information, but Mary kept on labouring, and I called my friend who had helped at many births over. Something odd happened though – she examined Mary to see how near the baby was, ad she whispered to me that Mary was still a virgin! That was strange. But then I remembered what she’d told me about the angel, and it all started to make sense.

Not long after she gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Joseph was delighted, and we were all relieved both mother and baby were well. Mary wrapped him up the usual way, and then when she needed to rest, looked around for somewhere to put him down. The only place that was off the ground was the manger on the edge of the stable portion, full of fresh hay for our cow and donkey. It looked nice and soft, and the baby would be safe and warm there, so Mary and Joseph put him there to sleep. The animals came over and sniffed, but backed away, and it was odd but they seemed to bow their heads to the baby.

Then I caught sight of a bright light outside. Oh no, not lightning. We don’t need thunder waking up the baby or Mary.

But there was no thunder, just a rustling, fluttering sound. It looked like big white birds, and they were singing! Now I was seeing things I thought. It had been a long day. I went to bed, but had no sooner got comfortable when there was a pounding on the door. Not another visitor, I grumbled. We’re already full-up, and then some.

Nathan opened it to see a group of shepherds, grubby and uncomfortable about waking us up. They stammered out some story about a cloud of angels singing to them, telling them that the son of God had been born and was lying asleep in a manger, of all places, and could they come and see him please?

I felt a tingle down my spine as Nathan motioned for them to come into the stable. There, the animals were asleep, Mary and Joseph were dozing, and the little baby was lying in the manger. He opened his eyes and waved his hands in

the air, eyes wide, taking it all in. His nose wrinkled and he sneezed at the strong smell of sheep and no baths from the shepherds! Everyone laughed, and they were spell-bound by this new baby, and knelt down and worshipped him.

I thought I’d better take a closer look at the child, – he certainly sneezed like a normal little one -and I was surprised to see that he had a sort of glow about him. A sense of peace, of timelessness seemed to surround him, and I knelt and worshipped him too.

When Mary was up to it, the new family found a proper place to stay, and Joseph took on some work. Then there were more visitors to the town – wise men, stargazers from far away. They had come to worship the baby too. I only heard about their visit later, because straight after it, Joseph put Mary and the baby on a donkey and left town in the middle of the night. That was just before that maniac Herod came into the town doing evil things.

Over the years, I often wondered about Mary and Joseph and their little baby. They called him Jesus, which means God saves. Surely if he was the son of God he would save us from the Roman occupation? I certainly hoped so. I did hear about the next part of his life later on, but I’ll save that story for another day.

Let us pray.

Loving God, we give thanks to you for sending Jesus among us, born as an ordinary baby, experiencing human life as we do. Thank you for the gift of love and peace that he brings into the world. May we show others that same love this Christmas tide, and ever more.


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