This column has become a Christmas tradition and I share with you once again this year. It is dedicated to all who believe.
I wish I had been there. In Bethlehem.
I wish I had witnessed the birth of the baby Jesus in a lowly manger. Was it really as cold that night as it is sometimes depicted on our Christmas cards, or was it as cool and comfortable an evening as it is predicted to be this year in Bethlehem?
I wish I could have seen firsthand Mary’s face as she looked lovingly at her new baby, and that I could have asked her if she knew her life and ours would be changed forever. Did she really understand what God had wrought? And Joseph. Poor simple Joseph. What must have been going through his mind? He was in Bethlehem only because he was required to register for the census in his hometown as decreed by Caesar Augustus. Did he have any idea what he had gotten himself into?
I wish I could have seen the star that guided people to the manger. Like everyone else that evening, I am sure I would have been stupefied and afraid, even though the angels said not to be. I think even hearing from a bunch of angels would have scared me.
I wish I could have observed the shepherds as they came pouring into Bethlehem from the hills where they had been tending their flocks, headed for the manger to see for themselves what the angels had proclaimed to them. What did this rough-hewn bunch think when they saw that little baby? The Bible says they went back and told others what they had seen. I wish I could have heard what they said about what they had seen. Shepherding was probably never the same for them after that night.
I wish I could have been there when the Magi arrived. That must have been quite an event in Bethlehem to have three kings from the East appear to pay homage to the little baby and to present him with gifts of gold and myrrh and frankincense. Why those three particular gifts? I am sure the gold had some practical application and frankincense probably helped sweeten the air around the stables, but myrrh? Did anyone see the irony in the fact that myrrh would be one of the spices that would be offered to Jesus at his crucifixion to dull the pain of the nails and the crown of thorns and later would be used to prepare his body for burial? Was this a sign of things to come? God’s ways are mysterious.
I wish I could have talked to the other people in Bethlehem who were there to register for the census along with Mary and Joseph and to try and explain to them that a child had been born in their midst that would change the course of history. I am not sure they would have believed me if I could have even gotten them to listen. Anyway, they probably had no interest in what was going on in town. They just wanted to get out of Bethlehem and back home so that they could get on with their routine lives.
I wish I could figure out what has happened to us Christians since that fateful night in Bethlehem some 2,000 years ago. Where is our awe? Where is our reverence? Where is our wonderment? Why have we allowed the birth of our Savior to morph into cocktail parties, Black Fridays, Cyber Mondays and gaudy light displays? Why did we permit this sacred event to be high-jacked by retailers who make money off of our holy day, but don’t allow the term “Merry Christmas” to be uttered, printed or acknowledged lest someone be offended? And we go along with it as though it doesn’t matter? Shame on us.
This is why I wish I had been there. I wish we all had been there together. In Bethlehem. With Mary and Joseph and the babe. With the shepherds. With the angels. With the Magi. Maybe if we had witnessed these things for ourselves, then we would understand how special Christmas really is.