Friday, December 23, 2005/lk
BETHLEHEM - I've done a lot of heavy lifting in my time, but let me tell you about my most precious cargo more than 2,000 years ago.
My master Joseph and his bride-to-be, Mary, had to travel 70 miles from their home in Galilee all the way to Bethlehem. That was a long way, let me tell you, since the whole trip was on donkey-make that my-back.
And the whole way I, a mere donkey, carried Mary, who was nine months pregnant with the baby Jesus, God's own Son.
The reason for our adventure was a mandate by Caeser Augustus that all residents within the whole Roman Empire had to return to the place of their ancestory for a census. Didn't matter if you were nine months pregnant or how far away you lived, you had better get back to your hometown or incur the wrath of the Roman Empire.
Further, the census was for more than just counting heads. It was for assessing taxes as well.
After the taxing trip all the way to Bethlehem, we were all looking forward to a place to rest. Especially Mary, who was on the verge of labor.
But when we arrived, we found that one inn after another was already full up because of others in town for the census.
So, we were grateful for a stable that someone let us stay in for the night.
Still, it brought a tear to my eye to think that the King of Kings was to be born in this stable with all us animals around.
Of course there was nothing like a bed or cradle, so Mary and Joseph had to use a hay feeding trough to lay Him in after he was born.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
After we got to the stable things started happening.
Mary gave birth to Jesus there. That was the most important thing, certainly.
But, just as certainly, God didn't keep his Son's arrival a secret.
After all, the prophets had been prophesying for a thousand years that a Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. That He would be born to a member of the family of King David.
And here He was, right here in this little stable.
A bright star appeared in the sky and then shepherds and their sheep started showing up to join in the celebration.
Angels were a common theme in this miracle birth of Jesus. Months earlier an angel appeared to Joseph, then later to Mary. On the night of Jesus' birth, angels appeared to shepherds.
After leaving Bethlehem, a star followed us to the house where Jesus, Mary and Joseph lived.
Guests continued to arrive, including Magi, or wisemen, from the east, perhaps Babylon, who followed the bright star to find us. They were astrologers who followed the stars, and followed the special star signaling Jesus' arrival on earth.
Don't remember exactly how many wisemen visited us or even what they wore. But they brought three gifts, according to the Gospel of Luke, chapter two: Gold and the rich spices of Frankincense and Myrrh.
Myrrh was a valuable oil during the time of Jesus, used as an anti-bacterial agent for the skin, stomach ulcers and as an antiseptic.
Frankincense was an aromatic resin often used during the time of Jesus for events ranging from sacrifices in the temple to preparing a body for burial.
After presenting the gifts, the wisemen returned home, instead of going back to Judea to tell King Herod where baby Jesus was located. Herod said he wanted to worship Jesus, but the truth is that he was afraid of Jesus.
Herod was king, after all, and worried about this baby who was called a king. What he didn't understand, is that Jesus' reign is a spiritual one.
Speaking of Herod, he died just a few months after Jesus was born. The year was 4 B.C., giving you and I a pretty good idea of the year Jesus was born.
Was Jesus born on December 25? I don't know, it's been more than 2,000 years, after all.
But I can tell you this, I don't think shepherds would have been out in the fields with their sheep in winter. At night.
What I do know is that it ultimately doesn't matter whether Jesus was born in December or in May, as some have guessed.
It doesn't matter how many wisemen were there. Three, four, five. It doesn't matter.
So why did I share this brief history?
To hopefully help all of us see what does matter this Christmas season: That Jesus Christ was born and lived in human skin and bones. That, for awhile, God took on human foibles and limitations.
Blood, sweat, tears, pain, hunger, thirst and laughter. Jesus experienced all of these for us.
And it wasn't just a lab experiment to see how mortals live.
You see, more than 30 years after Jesus was born another donkey carried him.
This time it was a triumphal entry into the streets of Jerusalem.
And just a few days after that he died and rose, so that all men and women can experience new birth.
Not just on December 25, but 365 days a year.