Christmas Preparations

In my role as chaplain I constantly come across those who are deeply frustrated by the current policy whereby anyone going into hospital for scheduled surgery has to phone ahead for a bed in hospital. Thankfully it is a policy that hasn't extended to the Maternity Department.
I do feel sorry for the husbands that find themselves hanging around the Maternity Ward feeling totally impotent… Well… perhaps that’s not the right word to use, but you know what I mean… There is nothing they can do…
How much more was that the case for poor old Joseph… No matter how unprepared a father feels for the arrival of a child, Joseph must have felt worse... No matter how disorganised we are coming up to Christmas, just think how bad poor old Joseph felt that first Christmas.
His wife in the middle of labour, and no Maternity Ward to rely on. Nowhere at all to stay. If only they’d left home sooner. If only they’d packed the donkey the night before. If only they hadn’t gone back to check that they’d kocked the front door. If only they hadn’t missed the turning on that roundabout on the Jerusalem to Jericho donkeyway. If only he’d phoned ahead and booked by Israeli Express. That would have done nicely. But no. He hadn’t done any of that and here he was in Bethlehem, not a hotelroom to be had for love nor money. The only thing he’d been offered was a stable. Well, better than Mary having the baby out in the street. Just about. No. He had really blown it. Why hadn’t he been better prepared!
But then again, why hadn’t God been better prepared. After all, this was to be his Son, not Joseph’s. Scripture suggests that God had all of history to get ready for his son’s birth. Years before God had revealled to the prophets what he was going to do and the prophets gave the world plenty of warning that God’s Son was on his way. And then... As Paul puts it in his Letter to the Galatians:
“When the time had fully come God sent his Son...”
Much has been written on the fact that 1st century Palestine was the perfect time and place for Jesus to be born. Thanks to the strength of the Roman Empire it was a time of unparalleled peace (at the point of a pilum) and prosperity in the western world. The Empire had also laid down an amazing network of roads along which the Gospel would eventually be carried. It had a common language in Greek, making international communication easy. it is said that the speed of communication in the 1st century Empire was never equalled until the 19th century.
It was just the right time for the Messiah to be born. So everything was put in place. God chose a woman to have his child. He’d picked out a name... Always important... Sally and I spent ages trying to come up with a name for our son... And yet even with all that thought, we still picked a name that no-one can spell...
But God had decided that his son was to be called Jesus, which means The Lord Saves because through this young child God was going to save the whole world from their sins. He’d arranged for a choir to go down to earth to sing by way of announcing that he’d arrived. He even arranged for a special star to shed some light on the whole proceedings. Everything was ready. Except he hadn’t arranged anywhere for Jesus to be born...
But then again... Was that an oversight? No. It was a sign of what was to come in Jesus’ life. Even though the prophets had said he was coming. Even though his cousin John went ahead of him to prepare the way, still, as John the Evangelist puts it, his own did not receive him... Still no room. He had, in his own words, “No-where to lay his head.” Jesus lived a life of rejection. As William Barclay puts it :
“That there was no room at the inn was symbolic of what was to happen to Jesus. The only place that there was room for him was on the cross.”

A sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent at the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, based on the reading from Isaiah 40 v 1-5

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