Every year at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, there is displayed, beneath the great Christmas tree, a beautiful 18th century Neapolitan nativity scene. In many ways it is a very familiar scene. The usual characters are all there: shepherds roused from sleep by the voices of angels; the exotic wise men from the East seeking, as Auden once put it, “how to be human now”; Joseph; Mary; the babe. All are there, each figure an artistic marvel of wood, clay, and paint. There is, however, something surprising about this scene, something unexpected here, easily missed by the casual observer. What is strange here is that the stable, the shepherds and the cradle are set, not in the expected small town of Bethlehem, but among the ruins of mighty Roman columns. The fragile manger is surrounded by broken and decaying columns. The artists knew the meaning of this event: The gospel, the birth of God’s new age, was also the death of the old world.

Herods know in their souls what we perhaps have passed over too lightly: God’s presence in the world means finally the end of their own power. They seek not to preserve the birth of God’s new age but to crush it. For Herod, the gospel is news too bad to be endured; for Mary, Joseph and all the other characters it is news too good to miss. (Thomas G. Long, Something Is About To Happen, via eSermons.com newsletter)

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A couple of years ago on “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” a young boy was shown on Christmas morning. He came down to see a large present beside the tree and ran over to tear it open to see what was inside. The paper went flying, and suddenly he broke into a dance and jumped around the room saying, “Wow! Just what I wanted! I really love it! Wow!” After awhile he went over to look at it again and said with a puzzled look on his face, “What is it?”

On that first Christmas, the angels announced the birth of a new child. The heavens were opened, and all the company of heaven broke into praise. Shepherds went racing to Bethlehem to see what it was all about. For 2,000 years, we have been jumping up and down saying, “Just what I wanted! Exactly what I needed!” In the next breath, we look again inside the stable and ask, “What is it?” We sometimes are puzzled by God’s gift. (Rodney Buchanan, Christmas Through the Eyes of God)

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Back in 1891, Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such classics as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Kidnapped, gave a rather odd gift to the daughter of a friend of his. This friend, Henry Ide, once joked that Christmas was not the happiest day of the year in his household. His 14-year-old daughter, Annie, had been born on Christmas; she always complained she got cheated out of a separate birthday party. So Robert Louis Stevenson came up with the idea of giving away his birthday. He drew up a legal document transferring all the “rights and privileges” of his birthday, which fell on Nov. 13, to Miss Annie H. Ide. From that day forward, Annie celebrated her birthday on Nov. 13.

Robert Louis Stevenson was not the first to transfer all his “rights and privileges” to someone else. In a sense, Jesus became mortal that He might transfer some of His immortality to us. Jesus became human that He might transfer the spark of divinity to us. Jesus became a servant that He might transfer us to the status of sons and daughters. Or as John put it: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (King Duncan, Collected Sermons)

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