Matthew 2:1-12

Births are intimate celebrations for family and friends

I guess that there are three big events in most peoples' lives. The first is our birth and the second is our wedding (if we are married). These events are so significant that they are celebrated throughout our lives with birthdays and anniversaries. The third big occasion, that obviously no one here has yet experienced, is our death and funeral. Now I realise that becoming a Christian and baptism are more important spiritually, but I'm talking about most people.

Let's think about these three events. Weddings tend to be pretty elaborate affairs. I remember my wedding . . . Lots of people make an effort to be at weddings — some you know well and often others that are more distant relatives or from the other side of the family. They're both formal and fun. But you wouldn't call them intimate.

Funerals are even more formal than weddings. The mourners at a funeral will range from the closest family to those that are merely acquaintances, but who wish to show their respect to the family. Funerals are opportunities to both grieve and celebrate the life of the person, but you wouldn't really call them intimate.

But births are different. You wouldn't call a birth formal. They're messy, fun and beautiful. Oh I realise there may be some pain involved (Debbie did squeeze my hand very hard) and occasionally deep disappointment that cuts deep, but most times once that precious bundle has emerged, it's time for close family and good friends to celebrate with laughter and horror stories and, of course, lots of cuddles of the "dried prune." Sorry, but someone has to be honest! Births are usually special, intimate celebrations for close family and friends.

And Jesus' birth was just like that

Jesus' birth was pretty similar. I know that Joseph and Mary were actually away from home. That they'd travelled to the south of Judea away from their hometown of Nazareth and there appeared to be no family around when Jesus was born in a stable. Well that was true for the night of the birth. They'd just arrived in town. But the reason they'd travelled to Bethlehem was for a Roman census where "everyone went to his own town to register." (Luke 2:3) Because Joseph was a descendent of King David, he had to go to David's hometown to be counted in the census. So you can imagine the family that would have been around the place at the time. If Mary was also a descendent of David, as many scholars say that Luke's genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-37) suggests, then it would have been like a huge family reunion in Bethlehem; a real "rellie" bash.

But what about the terrible circumstances — giving birth in a cattle shed? Well you have to remember that Mary and Joseph were not yuppies who can't survive without a mobile phone and dishwasher. They were from good working class, country stock. These were the days when women would give birth in the bush. I can imagine they would take it all in their stride. "Okay Joseph, grab those rags. Wrap them around the baby. That's good, now put him down in the straw in this feed trough. That's right, gently." Admittedly, not quite what you'd expect for God's son, but it could have been almost, dare I say, exciting.

Of course, the shepherds who visited the night of the birth weren't exactly friends or family. But being from the lower end of the social spectrum, and rejected by many of the religious establishment who regarded shepherds as unclean and the pits of society, I think they were kind of God's stand-in family for the night. I mean God has always particularly loved and accepted those who are doing it tough.