In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree…

…that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. Naturally most people filed their returns online. However, Joseph was too poor to have access to the internet, so he and his heavily pregnant fiancée were obliged to travel to his home town of Bethlehem in order to register. On arrival there, they found that many others were in the same position. They struggled in vain to find somewhere to spend the night. Some hoteliers said that they did not have the relevant health clearance to risk a delivery in the middle of the night. Others said that that they would have to charge for a family suite, since a double room clearly would not be sufficient. Still others said that they simply didn’t have the room. The couple even investigated an old stable at the back of a coaching inn, but found an official notice on the door, declaring that it was off limits to all but those in possession of the relevant animal hygiene certification.

Meanwhile, on the hillside overlooking the town, some shepherds were watching over their flocks. All of a sudden the angel of the Lord appeared before them and glory shone around them. The angel told them all about the birth of a new saviour, Jesus Christ, and what joy he would bring. ‘Go and see him now’, the angel suggested, as the skies behind him filled with a massed choir. ‘What’, said the shepherds, ‘and leave our flocks? You must be joking. That’s more than our job’s worth, that is. And anyway, the pastoral supervision act clearly states that no livestock shall be left unattended during the hours of darkness without proper nocturnal luminescence.’

Far away, wise men from the East were making their way to Bethlehem to worship the newborn child. When they reached the Eastern border, they were stopped by customs’ officials. It was felt that their explanations for carrying precious metal, anointing oil and burial spices were far from convincing – after all, what child could possibly need such things? Furthermore, their foreign accents, their unfamiliarity with local customs and their strange names made them open to all kinds of suspicion. In the end, their gifts were left to gather dust in a portacabin on the border and they turned sadly away.

We know that even if he had been born on the street rather than in the stable, and even if there were no angels and no shepherds and no wise men to greet Jesus, God would still have sent him. His arrival obeyed no conventions and required no ceremony. As the overture to a symphony of love, compassion power and joy, the Christmas story is distinctly muted. At Christmas God came, and no amount of fanfare or fuss could make it more spectacular than it already was.

We may find our creativity stretched to tell the same old story year in year out, but it is the best story.

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