PATRIARCH AND PRESIDING PRELATE
Where to Go at Christmas
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem–Luke 2:15
Bethlehem Did Not Know What God Was Doing in Its Midst
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the unobtrusiveness of God. How little the great world knew that night of all that was happening at the Inn! The inn itself was crowded; every corner of it housed a traveller. Men were talking excitedly and eagerly on a hundred subjects of the hour. And the great subject of eternity–the birth that was to alter all the future–unobserved, was at their very hand. Nobody was discussing that. The innkeeper would wish to keep it quiet. A few might wonder what was going on in the manger, but they would give to it only a passing thought. And it was thus that the Redeemer came, for the King is really the Kingdom, and cometh not with observation. The old Greeks used to say that the gods come to us on feet of wool. It was thus that God came when His Son was born, in the greatest moment of all history. Men were trafficking, and little children playing, and women gossiping beside the well–and lo! the kingdom of heaven was among them.
No One Expected Christ to Be Born in a Manger
Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the unexpectedness of God. Here was the heavenly purpose of the ages, fulfilled in a Babe lying in a manger, it was a common dream that the Christ would come in power, breaking into the world of time magnificently. Even if born (as prophecy had hinted), there would be visible splendour at His birth. The last thing that anyone expected, was that the Christ would be a manger-child, unable to find housing in an inn. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). The manger is forever preaching that, and we are forever slow to take it in. When we are tempted to dictate to heaven and to “limit the Holy One of Israel,” let us instantly turn our steps to Bethlehem.
They all were looking for a King
To slay their foes and lift them high:
Thou cam’st, a little baby thing
That made a woman cry.
In Their Obedience, the Shepherds Found God to Be Faithful
Let us now go again even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the faithfulness of God. That was what the shepherds found that night. When the shining angels went away, everything would be darker on the hill. Often in life, the very darkest hours follow hard on the splendour of the vision. And one pictures the shepherds, in that enfolding darkness, no longer “chatting in a rustic row,” but wondering if it all had been a dream. It is characteristic of these honest souls that they put things to the proof at once. They did not discuss the vision; they obeyed it. And so obeying, when everything was dark, and when the night had swallowed up the glory, they discovered the faithfulness of God. Was there a scoffer, I wonder, in their company? Did he warn them that they were self-deceived? Did he bid them “tarry by the sheep-folds,” for that they would go to the city and find nothing? Then, with a wisdom that learning cannot give, they disregarded him, and made for Bethlehem, and found their proof of the faithfulness of God. That is how we always find it. It is not enough to have the hour of vision. Visions unacted on and obeyed never authenticate high heaven, it is when the vision goes, and through the following darkness we carry on, though with a sinking heart, that we find He is always better than His word. To act instantly on what has been revealed to us, though there be nothing around us but the familiar pastures; to obey, when the voices of heaven are all silenced, and we hear only the bleating of the sheep, that, for us, as for these simple shepherds, is the way to discover the faithfulness of God in the unspeakable gift of the Lord Jesus.
God Uses Human Hands to Dispense His Higher Gifts
Let us now go yet again even unto Bethlehem, that we may see how God needs human service. The shepherds came to the Baby in the manger–and Joseph and Mary were both there. When God sends rain, man cannot interfere. It is the unaided ministry of heaven. When God sends sunshine, He does not ask our help. It comes quite independently of man. But one mark of all the higher gifts of God is that something is always left for man to do, and he is summoned to be a fellow-worker. The gift of the corn demands the farmer’s aid. The gift of the olive-trees demands the gardener. The precious gift of the little crying infant demands the love and watching of the mother. And the Babe at Bethlehem, the greatest gift of all, was not alone when the shepherds reached the manger–even for that gift, human hands were needed. The infant Christ demanded loving service. Without that service, He could not have lived. May I not say that He demands it now as imperiously as He ever did at Bethlehem? All which does not decry the great word gift, for always, the nobler be God’s gift, the more it claims the toil of human hands.
God’s Gifts Reveal His Thoughtfulness and Understanding
Let us now go once more even unto Bethlehem, that we may see the thoughtfulness of God. For that gift, though few might have known it then, was exactly what all the world was needing. Sometimes, even at Christmas, we get gifts which do not speak of thoughtfulness. We feel that the giver has never really known us, or he would never have given us a thing like that. But love and thoughtfulness and perfect understanding (which is always one of the sweetest fruits of love) are mingled in that Christmas gift at Bethlehem. “Thou, O Christ, art all I want, More than all in Thee I find.” The cultured Roman and the savage African were all to agree that this was true. I think as years roll on, and hours of triumph reach us, and shadows fall, and days of heartbreak come, one of the most wonderful of life’s discoveries is the all-sufficiency of Christ.
† HH Sir Godfrey Gregg