The Nativity experience

Pastor Tim Smith

Pastor Tim Smith - Credit: Archant

Have you attended a school or church Nativity play over the past couple of weeks? 
I imagine that if you’re anything like me, witnessing your own children or grandchildren re-enact the most familiar of stories causes you to think back to your own childhood Nativity performing experiences. 
Back in primary school, I tended to be type-cast as a shepherd. 
Only once do I recall being considered suitable for the role of wise man;  not much has changed in the last fifty years! 
The thought that when Christ was born, the first people to be told the “Good News” were those hillside herdsmen is, to me, of the utmost significance. 
Because, back in those days, shepherds were looked down upon by most people. 
In many ways they were outcasts; some would live as nomads without a place to call home.  And they were also considered untrustworthy. 
The word of a shepherd was thought to be far from reliable. 
And yet the Bible says that they were the first people to be told of the Saviour’s birth and invited to go and meet this new arrival for themselves; and then they were also entrusted with spreading the news of what they had witnessed to others. 
Surely this angelic encounter to those considered unworthy and unimportant by most people, underlines the truth at the heart of the Christmas story; that the birth of the baby in a stable in Bethlehem is life-changing news for every single person, no matter how insignificant or unimportant we might feel. 
In my article a couple of weeks ago I referred to the familiar words of Jesus found in the third chapter of John’s gospel: - “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. 
Forgive me for returning to these verses once more, but there is one word Jesus uses here that emphasises the comprehensive, all-embracing invitation of God to every needy person, that we celebrate every December. 
It’s the word “WHOEVER”.  Jesus says that the opportunity to receive all that he has to offer and to be welcomed into God’s family, is available to anyone and everyone who believes. 
No exclusions; no exceptions. 
On the Embankment by the River Thames in London sits Cleopatra’s Needle.  It was gifted to this country back in 1819 by the then ruler of Egypt & Sudan, and finally erected in 1878. 
Apparently, some street poet of the time wrote the following words in honour of its appearance as a London landmark: -  
"This monument, as some supposes, 
was looked upon in old days by Moses 
it passed in time to Greeks and Turks, 
and was stuck up here by the Board of Works" 
In its base, Cleopatra’s Needle contains a time capsule that supposedly gave a snapshot of Victorian life. 
As well as a set of coins, some children’s toys, a city directory and photographs of the 12 most beautiful women of the day, the capsule also includes those words of Jesus from John 3:16, translated into 215 languages. 
In London today, over 250 different languages are spoken, making it the most linguistically & ethnically diverse city in the world. 
But whatever the vocabulary is that a person understands, the message at the base of the Needle and at the heart of the Christian faith is the same;  the baby found lying in a manger, is God’s greatest gift, and is given to any person who is prepared to receive him. 
Let me leave the last word to Jesus, who in John 6:37 says, “Whoever comes to me, I will never drive away”.