“When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger.” (Luke 2:15–16)
Hark! The herald angels sing! What about when they stopped singing? Luke makes it clear that the angels “had gone away from them into heaven.” Have you ever pondered what happened when that chorus went silent? What was it like the day after Jesus was born? It is in answering these questions that we move beyond the familiarity of the pageant version of Christmas and into the raw contours of the glory of the incarnation.
Assuming from the sparse details offered in the narrative that the shepherds did in fact visit Jesus on the very night of His birth, all is silent until the eighth day when the rite of circumcision was performed. So often is this our portion in reading the Gospels that it is easy to simply advance our meditation with the inspired words and not take up our abode in the space of seven days that yawn mysteriously before us. It is as though the brilliant flash of glory on Christmas Day is so luminous that we forget that it indeed wane, at least in its outward manifestation. The shepherds left, and Mary and Joseph were alone with a newborn.
Doubtless all eyes above were fixed upon those three beating hearts in Bethlehem and their lowly estate, yet no hand reached out to assist, no angels were there to minister to the Babe. How did that first night pass? Another familiar hymn tells, “no crying He made,” yet it can hardly be true that it was indeed a silent night. As Mary sought some rest within the chill, rough confines of the stable she was roused by the voice of her little One as he hungered for nourishment no longer received in the womb. And then the sunrise came…
Though they would later relocate to Bethlehem, it was not their home and now they were parents in a place foreign to them. Most pressing was the need for more permanent accommodations. What filled their minds as their tired bodies sought a place of refuge where they could rest and care for their boy? The only answer scripture offers is in the notice of Mary pondering ‘these things’ within her heart (Luke 2:19). Surely the enormity of the events they had experienced, stretching all the way back to the initial visit from Gabriel, provided some comfort. Yet likely it did not shield Mary’s muscles from the weariness of labor or her eyes from the burning weight of fatigue, any more than the magnitude of Jesus’ divine identity rendered Him immune to the hunger, thirst, and sleep of a newborn. As the three made their way through the narrow alleys of the town, they all felt it fully and completely.
Yet there He lay, cradled in His mother’s arms – the Word made flesh now dwelling among us. Not just in the climactic moment of His birth when the melodies of angels filled the valley below, but in the obscurity of His second day of life as His parents knocked on doors and searched for hospitality. For the first time during those seven sunrises the outlandish words of John 1:10 rang true: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.”
It is safe to say that ancient Jewish culture and domestic life were far-removed from the modern West, and that Mary and Joseph became well known to the residents of this unfamiliar small town in Judea and those guests who still lingered from the census. People were talking, as scripture itself reveals, and the remarkable conditions in which Mary had given birth and at least some of the wild tale told by the shepherds likely circulated here and there, creating a stir among the locals. We can imagine that the couple from Nazareth had more awkward conversations about their baby that week than most have in a lifetime.
Still all of this clamor must be seen as a mere pin drop compared to the deafening, earth-shaking, history-changing blast that had actually happened in the stable that night. The majestic Creator of everything had been born, the everlasting Word had assumed flesh before the eyes of men. And for the most part on the surface it was just another week in Bethlehem except for a bit of excitement about “that baby.” Which, of course, He still was. It was not until the eighth day that He even received a name.
God had come, and He chose to be carried about as a sojourner unknown and unnamed as He searched for a place of rest in David’s town. May He find it in us in the quietness and normalcy of these days leading up to Christmas.