george_hancockstefanThe concept that most of us have of the Christmas story is high power energy.  From the moment that the angel Gabriel comes and makes the announcement until the escape of the family to Egypt, it can often read like a spy novel.  Two people are told that they will become the parents of God’s promise to the people of Israel.  Neither of them can believe that this is happening to them.  Mary is the pure virgin and cannot imagine that she can conceive.  Joseph is a righteous person and cannot imagine that the woman he loved so much and with whom he wanted to spend his life was pregnant and it was not his child.  God intervenes and they come together now as a couple, but not yet as husband and wife until the baby is born.

The time of the birth is getting near. Instead of preparing to have the baby delivered in the warmth of their home in Nazareth, Mary and Joseph have to travel to Bethlehem.  They are not the only ones arriving in Bethlehem.  The Roman census has forced many to travel to Judah and while some of the locals were glad to make some money by having people in their inns, there are always those who cannot afford the inn and they are looking for the alms of the local residents.  In the overcrowded inns, Mary and Joseph cannot find lodging and are forced to find a place in the stable.

It is to the shepherds in the fields that the angels are bringing the good news that the Shepherd of the world has been born.  It connects the history of King David, the beloved shepherd of the nation of Israel with the current shepherds who are privileged to hear the songs of the angels and the announcement.  They are the first to confirm the news that indeed as it has been told to them – the Shepherd of Israel has been born.

We move at a fast pace (at least in the Gospels) and we find this group of wandering Magi who go to the wrong place (Herod’s place) and then to the right place (where Jesus was with his parents) only to incur the wrath of Herod because another angel told them to avoid a return trip to the royal palace.  I do not know if in the hurry of the night, Joseph and Mary packed the Magi’s gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense, or the neighbors helped them get on the way because the soldiers of Herod were approaching quickly.

Sometimes when the Christmas story goes on at great speed, I imagine a small child opening one gift after another, without appreciating any of the toys that he has received.  They joy almost becomes the opening of the gifts, not the gifts themselves.

In the tumult of the Incarnation, the pensive one is Mary.  Elizabeth, her cousin, is aware of this characteristic when she blesses her by saying, “Blessed is she who believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (Luke 1:45). After the testimony of the shepherds that they have heard this angelic choir, Luke writes, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  Even when Jesus is 12 years old and they are returning from their trip to the Temple, Luke makes this remark, “But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51b).

I like my life at a fast pace.  I like the pace of the church combined with the seminary, I like the pace of a house filled with my children and their friends, and I like the pace of friends and relatives coming over.  I like the noise, the arguments, the competition to state quickly what one thinks.  I remember arriving at Estes Park with a group of young people and starting to settle into our rooms.  Another friend arrived and he wondered how we could unload without having music.  He turned the radio on at full blast because he could not take the silence of the mountains.

Yet, what I miss the most is the time to ponder things.  I am in constant motion.  I need to have paper nearby to do outlines and sermons, while driving to Philadelphia is my prayer time.  I want to write so that I will not need to edit.  I am planning the Christmas programs while thinking ahead about what I need to do in January. 

One day one of my daughters said to me, “I do not think that I will give you another Christmas gift because the one that I gave you last year is still in the box.”  The Apostle Paul tells us that the focus of the Incarnation is that the heir Jesus Christ came so that I may inherit the glory of heaven.  Yet, I miss that great story because I am constantly on the go.

It is time to ponder. God sent his Son so that you will become his son or daughter at this Christmas time.  May this reality fill your heart and your life.

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Rev. Dr. George Hancock-Stefan

George Hancock-Stefan

Pastor George Hancock-Stefan completed 30 years as the pastor of the great congregation at Central Baptist Church in Atlantic Highlands in 2020. Those 30 years have been a blessed time for him, his wife...