Columns

The night before Christmas

Lance NEITA

Saturday, December 21, 2013    

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THE Christmas story, as told in Luke and Matthew, is a thrilling narrative of those momentous events that took place leading up to the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. True, the dates may not be historically factual, but Christians accept the two Gospel accounts as spiritual or theological documents inspired by God and based on proven events.

Over the centuries, the beloved stories have attracted controversy as scholars seek to apply different theories as to why such and such happened or could not have happened.

For instance, as stated in Wikipedia, the earliest source claiming December 25 as the birth of Christ is found in third century studies by one Hyppolytus of Rome, whose proposition is based on the assumption that Jesus's conception took place at the Spring equinox, which he places at March 25, followed by the nine-month cycle.

But placing the date in December was confusing to other scholars who claimed that shepherds would not have been out grazing their sheep on a cold and wintry December night.

There have also been arguments about the place of birth with Bethlehem discredited in favour of other cities including Capernaum.

The debates rage on, but nothing can replace the beauty and simplicity of the nativity scene celebrated year after year with carols, feasts, gifts, and worship as we fall on our knees and acknowledge the coming of Christ into our world.

The wonder of that Christmas Eve night is retold below in a story I have written and published elsewhere, and which I humbly repeat as a favourite Christmas carol.

'Twas the night before Christmas and the hosts of Heaven were on their toes as they waited in anticipation of what was going to be the world's most significant event since the act of creation.

There was subdued excitement along the great corridors of the universe as the angels took up their places for the well-ordered symmetry of events that had been planned ever since the ages began.

The time had come to make that supreme gift to mankind when God would become flesh, and the most important delivery of a baby in the history of humankind would take place.

The choir was tiptoeing into the stalls and whispering to each other in hushed tones, as the Father had ordered complete quiet for the final countdown.

Gabriel, the choirmaster, hushed the gathering and ordered them back in line.

Arcott and Spencer, who were standing at the four corners to draw the curtains, took their places.

Suddenly a door opened and the archangel came out from the Throne Room to stride down the passageway lined with thousands of angels who granted proper obeisance to the majestic figure headed towards earth to announce the birth.

Inside the room he had gone through the final checklist.

Yes, the mother and father were now in Bethlehem.

Yes, they had found rest at the back of an inn.

Yes,the shepherds were out on the hillside.

Yes, the star was in place.

And the wise men, still arguing and debating each other on points of astronomy and mathematics, had managed to get lost, finding themselves in Jerusalem.

"Go and search for him, you see, and when you find him come back and tell me so that I can go worship him too, you hear?" the crafty King Herod told them.

Ah, this was going to be a night.

Meanwhile, Bethlehem had taken on a festive air as hundreds who had turned up for the census were making time for partying and joyful reunion with family and friends. The streets were crowded with shoppers seeking souvenirs. It was Grand Market time, with hawkers peddling, customers bargaining, and music and dancing at every street corner.

No one had time to notice the non-descript couple who moved anxiously from building to building trying to find a haven for the pregnant girl astride the donkey.

"No room," "sorry we're full," "try elsewhere," "booked out, can't you see?" were the responses as the innkeepers sent the haggard pair to the next door.

One person finally took pity and led them to a little stable around the back:"it's not much, you can rest on the hay, a little water, and that's all I have, take it or leave it, sir."

On earth, that moment was just a minor distraction from the music and the lights and the dancing as the street-goers partied like never before.

But in heaven, that was the signal, the time for go, the finger-snapping moment for God to come into the world, not as a spirit, but as a humble, frail, mortal man in flesh.

And, as the baby made his first cry, a most marvelous thing happened on a hillside several miles away.

The mightiest of archangels presented himself in a flash of light to a nervous, frightened, quivering set of shepherds.

He made the formal announcement, and then the rustics, spellbound, saw the curtains of the sky rolled back to the four corners of the globe as a host of angels filled the heavens singing that first Christmas Carol, "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth, peace and goodwill to all men."

It made music around the world, but for those magical moments only the shepherds heard it, and only the shepherds saw the angels. Not the merrymakers, not the shoppers, not the dancers, not the innkeepers, not the noisemakers.

But in the stable behind the inn, the baby suddenly stopped crying and His eyes opened, His lips pursed into a smile, His tiny hands tapped out a gentle applause, and His mother knew that He was listening.

On the hillside, the concert was over. The heavenly choir took their exit. The curtains were restored.

The shepherds wept. They were considered the lowest caste in the society of that time, yet God had chosen them for one of the greatest honours in the whole of human history.

It's the night before Christmas. "Let us now go to Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass."

Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. Send comments to lanceneita@hotmail.com

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