Chappers’ Christmas Message 2022 – An Unprecedented Christmas

There’s a quote that’s been doing the rounds on social media recently. I’m sure that many of you will have seen it. It says, “The first Christmas was pretty messy, so don’t worry if yours is too.” It got me thinking!

The Oxford English Dictionary team release a list of ‘Words of the Year’ every year. It a list of new words, or older ones which have been used repeatedly through the year. One word that didn’t make the list, but I would argue could have done, is, ‘Unprecedented’! Over the last three years, we have been through: an ‘Unprecedented pandemic’, ‘Unprecedented change’, ‘Unprecedented gas and electricity costs’, ‘Unprecedented petrol and diesel costs’, ‘Unprecedented strike action’, an ‘Unprecedented cost of living crisis’ and many more ‘Unprecedenteds’ – if that’s even a word!!!

I wonder how ‘Unprecedented’ the first Christmas was. We have a young family facing an unprecedented journey. I’m sure that Joseph and Mary will have visited Bethlehem on many occasions, but never with Mary being 9 months pregnant. The ‘Inn’ of the Christmas story was most likely an ‘Oikos’, or ‘Household’. People lived in extended family communities with a number of homes being connected and facing into a central courtyard. My family (before I was born) lived on Silkstone Street and there were a number of family members who lived within a few doors of one another. Kids would play in the street together and family members would sit on the doorstep and ‘do life’ together. It’s very much that picture. Most likely, whenever Joseph had visited in the past, there would have been room in the family oikos for them, but the census had caused an unprecedented number of people to be there – there was no room for them. The family did their best and gave them and unprecedented place to stay – the animals’ space. This would most likely be a cave, rather than the pretty wooden stables that we have become accustomed to seeing in nativity plays. Hardly the, ‘Welcome home’ that they would have been used to.

Mary gives birth to Jesus, and He is placed into an unprecedented crib – a manger. This is an animals’ feeding trough. I’m sure that they would have cleaned it up the best that they could, but it still wouldn’t be the kind of bed that a king would usually be placed into.

Out in the fields nearby, there are shepherds keeping an eye on their sheep overnight. A shepherd was on the lowest rung of society, with no education or social standing. All they knew was how to keep wild animals and thieves away from their flock. They have an unprecedented visit from a host of angels, who tell them of the unprecedented birth. They should never have been the first to know but, in an unprecedented move, God tells the least respected people in society first! It’s an upside-down way of working that God seems to do a lot! They go to see for themselves and find the unprecedented sight of the family with their new baby boy.

A couple of years later, Magi appear from the East – probably from modern day Iran. They have seen an unprecedented sight in the sky – a star which meant that a King had been born. They make their own unprecedented journey. They do exactly what you would expect – they go to a palace to find a king. In an unprecedented move, the king hasn’t been born there. They give unprecedented gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to a young family.

You see, very little of the Christmas story was the way that you would expect a baby to be born – not least a royal baby. I’m sure that things were very different to the way that Mary and Joseph would have wanted. They lived through the mess and now, 2000+ years later, we are still celebrating that incredible period of time and their amazing story. It was messy, but it was game changing. It wasn’t tidy, but it changed history. Don’t worry if your Christmas is different this year – I pray that you find peace in the mess and busyness and that the joy of the first Christmas is yours this year and into 2023.

Paul Johnson, Club Chaplain.