The new classic Christmas movie Love Actually starts with video of families greeting each other at the airport. You don’t see it anymore. When you go to the airport to pick someone up now, it’s usually half a greeting while you hurry to jam luggage in the trunk and hop in the car to race away from the terminal before you get blocked or someone starts honking their horn at you to hurry up.
It used to be that loved ones would gather at the gate to wait for you. There would be a crowd of the family and friends of all the passengers on the plane waiting for someone to arrive for a visit. Crowds hugging and kissing glad to be reunited. Celebrating a great reunion for the holiday. All the planes, trains and automobiles frustration is worth it when we are welcomed home.
Mary and Joseph had traveled a long way to arrive in Bethlehem. They had traveled 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This wasn’t an hour and a half trip down the road in a Ford. This wasn’t a 20 minute non-stop flight on El Al Israeli Airlines. This journey on foot of the Holy couple would have taken the average person 4 days, but Mary and Joseph probably went slower and took days longer for fear of a miscarriage if Mary walked too far too fast.
There was no warm welcome when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem. There was no warm family home lit with colored twinkling lights with a roaring fire in the fireplace and the smell of wassail simmering on the stove. There was no Holiday Inn or Marriott to check into with fresh linens and clean towels. The couple searched for an open room to rent, but there was none. The only bed the innkeeper had was a bed of hay.
The stable is an old familiar scene. We have images in our mind of movies or videos or art which portray the setting. We have seen many children’s programs portraying the Holy birth in a stable surrounded by sheep and cows. We can see the wooden feeding trough lined with fresh hay with the baby Jesus laying under the soft glow of lanterns.
As familiar as the birth is to us, the first readers of the Gospel of Luke were familiar with the Old Testament. In the ancient church, new Christians would receive instruction in the Old Testament so that when they heard and read the stories of Jesus they could hear the echoes from the Old Testament. Jesus’ birth was the fulfillment of all those promises.
Throughout the Fall and into Advent, I preached about the promises God made to His people Israel to redeem them and honor the covenant with them. God also promised to make a new covenant that would include everyone, not just Jews, but everyone. Jesus, the Savior, is the fulfillment of all those promises and establishes that new covenant. All the Old Testament points to this one night when a Savior is born and God unmistakably reveals His steadfast faithfulness to His people.
The song “O Little Town of Bethlehem” includes a verse that sums up the birth of our Savior, the Messianic hope He fulfilled and His pastoral mission.
“O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by,
Yet in thy dark street shineth, the everlasting light,
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
On that dark cold night in the little town of Bethlehem in a stable, God fulfilled the hope the people had for a Messiah. That was the fulfillment of hope for the Jews. We find meaning and hope in the birth of a Savior when we remember the new covenant established in His life, death and resurrection that grafts us into the promised salvation of Israel. As we eat the bread and drink the cup, let us remember that it is Christ who invites us to the meal to remember the new covenant that extends to us the promises of God. This simple meal of juice and bread is a foretaste of the lavish feast Christ will one day invite us to with a warm generous welcome surrounded by all of our friends and family when our salvation is one day complete. Let us eat, drink and be merry.