The Holy Night

We sate among the stalls at Bethlehem;
The dumb kine from their fodder turning them,
Softened their horned faces
To almost human gazes
Toward the newly Born:
The simple shepherds from the star-lit brooks
Brought their visionary looks,
As yet in their astonied hearing rung
The strange sweet angel-tonge:
The magi of the East, in sandals worn,
Knelt reverent, sweeping round,
With long pale beards, their gifts upon the ground,
The incense, myrrh, and gold
These baby hands were impotent to hold:
So let all earthlies and celestials wait
Upon thy royal state.
Sleep, sleep, my kingly One!

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

En route to a communist prison camp, missionary Geoffrey Bull spent Christmas Eve in a Tibetan Inn:

“After a meal, and when it was already dark, it was necessary for me to go downstairs to give more hay to the horses. Chien permitted my going and I clambered down the notched tree trunk to the lower floor, which was given over in the usual manner to stabling. Below, it was absolutely pitch black. My boots squelched in the manure and straw on the floor, and the fetid smell of the animals was nauseating. I felt my way among the mules and horses, expecting to be kicked at any moment. ‘What a place,’ I thought. 

“Then, as I continued to grope my way in the darkness toward the gray, it suddenly flashed into my mind, ‘What’s today?’ I thought for a moment. In traveling, the days had become a little muddled in my mind. Then it came to me, ‘It’s Christmas Eve.’ I stood still, suddenly still, in that oriental manger. To think that my Savior was born in a place like this. To think that He came all the way from Heaven to some wretched eastern stable and, what is more, to think that He came for me. How men beautify the cross and the crib, as if to hide the fact that at birth we resigned Him to the stench of beasts, and at death exposed Him to the shame of rogues. God forgive us. 

“Love to the uttermost, love to the uttermost,
Love past all measuring His love must be;
From Heaven’s highest glory to earth’s deepest shame,
This is the love of my Savior to me.”

The Glory of Humility

I remember sitting one Christmas season in London listening to Handel’s Messiah, with a full chorus singing about the day when “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” I had spent the morning viewing remnants of England’s glory—the crown jewels, the Lord Mayor’s gilded carriage—and it occurred to me that just such images of wealth and power must have filled the minds of Isaiah’s contemporaries who first heard that promise.

The Messiah who showed up, however, wore a different kind of glory—the glory of humility. The God who roared, who if He so desired could order armies and empires about like pawns, this God emerged in Bethlehem as a baby who could not speak or eat solid food. This God who created all things became dependent on a teenager for shelter, food, and love.

Rulers stride through the world with bodyguards, fanfare, and flashing jewelry. In contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in a shelter for animals, with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn King but a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divided history into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. As Phillips Brooks put it:

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of His heaven.

In most religions, fear is the primary emotion when approaching God. In Jesus, God made a way of relating to us that did not involve fear. 

~ Philip Yancey

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