I am not sure if I have posted some of these thoughts before; I know I have mentioned them in passing.
How many “first” Christmas do you remember? I know that my first Christmas was on December 25, 1950 and that my parents and my grandparents were there. There may have been a few of my North Carolina cousins there as well. I also know that I looked absolutely fabulous in my baptismal gown. I know that because I have a picture of my parents and I on that occasion. But since I was only three months old at the time, that’s all I know about my first Christmas.
There are the memories of my first Christmas with my wife and each of my daughters. I remember the Christmas twenty years ago when Ann and I traveledto Memphis to meet my mother, brothers, and sister. It would also be the first time that Ann had ever heard me preach. I remember telling her just before we arrived at the church that she would be the only white women there.
I also remember the broken bones and broken marriages, of lost jobs and being homeless at Christmas. Against the backdrop of the Joy of Christmas, we must also remember that, for many individuals and families, this is not a joyous time. If for no other reason that this is the season of giving, we must find ways to share our joys with those who suffer pain and loss. We must find ways to bring hope and light into the lives of those for whom Christmas is often the darkest and longest night.
We think back to that First Christmas some two thousand years ago. Mary and Joseph knew that this was a special day but those around them only saw a couple in need of help, trying to find shelter on a cold and dark night where a baby could be born.
I am sure that the innkeeper wasn’t thinking that this couple were by any means a special couple but just two people trying to find a place to stay in a town overflowing with people because the Roman government had insisted on a census of the population.
And surely among all of Joseph’s cousins who had traveled to Bethlehem for the same reasons as he did were some mid-wives who would help with the birth of Mary’s child. You did not ask who the child was; you helped the mother through a difficult time.
But then the shepherds came. Shepherds were the dregs of society and no one in proper society would even think of letting them visit; after all, there was no telling what they might do or take. But some among those gathered that night must have thought that if the shepherds had been invited, something special must be occurring.
Even those who weren’t paying attention to what happened in Bethlehem knew something must have happened when Herod imposed the wrath of Roman power on the rumor of the birth of a new King.
So, in a society ruled by Roman and religious oppression, where success was guided more by your position in society and fealty to the law, some saw a light shining in the darkness of the winter night. Though many did not know how special that night was, they knew something was changing. And over the years, they would come to understand what happened that night and what it would mean.
There is a darkness enveloping this world today and though light is returning as the seasons move forward, this darkness seems to be growing. There are those today for whom the darkness totally envelopes their lives; there is no joy, there is no hope in their lives.
Christmas has no meaning if it is not shared; we share it with those seeking light in a sea of darkness. But more importantly, just as those who gathered that first night in Bethlehem, we too take what happened with us and we tell others.
We all have our special first Christmas. Let this Christmas be the beginning of the story that we share each day.