Eddie Gibbs, Atherton resident since 2010

We all know the story. We’ve seen it, read it, sung it, heard sermons about it, and cherish it. But have you ever actually been inside the story? The night we experienced this was one of the most unforgettable Christmas celebrations of our lives.

It happened on Christmas Eve, 1982. We gathered on a street corner that led through a quaint English village. Gradually more people joined the crowd carrying flashlights and lanterns. Suddenly we heard a ‘whoosh’ and saw a shooting star light up the hillside for a few moments. Then we noticed a young man coming down the path, leading a donkey on which sat a young woman. As she drew nearer we noticed that she is, in fact, an expectant mother. The crowd began to sing…

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see you lie!
Above the deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by: yet in your streets is shining the everlasting light:
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in you tonight.

As the couple with the donkey entered the village they knocked nervously on the door of the first cottage on the square. In response to their insistent knocking and calling, a family answered the door, with their curious children standing behind them. Although the couple are in urgent need of shelter, they are turned away by the family, who explain that the house is already full. They repeat their knocking on doors as they go down the street with increasing urgency. But each time they are turned away.

Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown,
When Thou camest to earth for me;
But in Bethlehem’s home there was found no room
For Thy holy nativity.
Oh, come to my heart Lord Jesus!
There’s room in my heart for Thee.

Eventually, they reach the village inn. It is ablaze with Christmas lights and abuzz with people. The bar is packed with standing room only. In the restaurant every table is occupied with families enjoying a festive meal. The couple appeals to the publican for help. But the inn keeper explains that he had no vacancies. There are guests in every room for the night and he is hectically busy serving meals and drinks. By now the couple are frantic, as the young mother-to-be is aware that thebaby is about to be born. Realizing that something has to be done, the inn keeper points further down the village street to a farm located at the far end of the village. The farmer is a relative of his, so he accompanies the couple, leading the donkey to a barn, where there is clean straw, stabling the animals–cows and sheep–for the night.

Caught up with the crowd. we remained respectfully outside singing a couple more songs. Then when it was appropriate to enter, we approached quietly and respectfully. Just inside we saw a peaceful Mary sitting close to her husband, with the proud, if bemused, Joseph standing at her side. The baby is sleeping contentedly in a manger with straw for its bed. The cows are mooing and the sheep are bleating.

It was a transformative moment as all of us strangers in the crowd spontaneously took up the familiar carol….

Silent night! Holy night! All is calm, all is bright
Round the virgin and her child; holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace…

We had read the story many times and sung the carols, But on this occasion we were actually there! For the first time as adults we were inside the story. God met us there in the re-enactment of that age-old story from so long ago. This was something that we had not experienced since we were small children acting in a Nativity play and it took us utterly by surprise.

This year, may you find some way into the altogether familiar story. Like us, may you be filled with the joy and wonder of actually being inside the story.

Joy to the world, the Lord has come!
Let earth receive her king, let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and angels sing.