This column was a favorite of my friend, Otis Brumby Jr., publisher of the Marietta Daily Journal and Neighbor newspapers, who passed away earlier this year. It is dedicated to his memory.
I wish I could have been there. In Bethlehem.
I wish I could have witnessed the birth of Jesus in that humble setting of a lowly manger. Was it really as cold that night as it is sometimes depicted on our Christmas cards, or was it a cool and comfortable evening as it is predicted to be this year in Bethlehem?
I wish I could have seen Mary’s face as she lovingly looked at her new baby and asked her if she knew how much her life was going to change from that night forward. 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 as decreed by Caesar Augustus. I wish I could have talked to Joseph and heard what he had to say about that night. I suspect he was bewildered. It doesn’t take much to bewilder fathers.
I wish I could have seen the star that lit up the dark sky. Like everyone else that evening, I am sure I would have been stupefied and afraid, even though angels said not to be. I think even hearing the voices of angels would have scared me. God’s power is awesome, and he showed it that night.
I wish I could have observed the shepherds as they came pouring into Bethlehem to see first-hand what the angels had proclaimed to them in the hills where they were tending their flocks. 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 just witnessed. I wish I could have heard what they said. Shepherding probably was never the same for them after that night.
I wish I could have been there when the Magi arrived. That must have been quite a sight when three kings from the East suddenly appeared to pay homage to the baby and present him with gifts of gold, 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 manger, 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 driven into his wrists and ankles and the crown of thorns thrust on his head, and that later it would be used to prepare his body for burial? Was the gift of myrrh an omen? God’s ways are mysterious.
I wish I could have stopped some people in Bethlehem who were there to register for the Census along with Mary and Joseph and explained to them that while they had been in town, a child had been born that would forever change the world. I am not sure they would have believed me if I could have gotten them to listen. They just wanted to get registered and out of Bethlehem so they could get back home and continue on with their unremarkable lives, having no idea what had just transpired in their midst.
I wish I could figure out what has happened to us Christians since that fateful night in Bethlehem 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 and the promise that there is something better awaiting us after this life to morph into cocktail parties, Black Fridays, Santa Claus and gaudy light displays? Why did we permit this sacred event to be hijacked by retailers who make money off this holy season, but don’t allow the term “Merry Christmas” to be uttered, printed or acknowledged lest they offend someone? And we go along with it as though it doesn’t matter? Shame on us.
This is why I wish I could have been there. I wish we all had been there. In Bethlehem. With Mary, Joseph and the babe. With the shepherds. With the angels. With the Magi. Maybe if we had seen these things for ourselves, we would understand how special Christmas really is.
Oh, how I wish we could.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA, 31139.