In just over three weeks Christmas Day will arrive. I hadn’t actually been counting, until I started writing this article. On the first Christmas, Jesus was laid in a manger. We read that Mary, “…gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
A manger suggests animals. It’s hardly the most hygienic of settings for Jesus to make His entrance. This was not a romantic scene. Why is it, in some Christmas cards at least, even the animals seem to be smiling? There was little by way of human welcome for Jesus. So an animal feeder had to suffice for Jesus’ first bed.
Jesus came to welcome us
And yet, in the amazing way God has of turning things around, while there was no five star welcome for Jesus, Jesus came to welcome us! Even His name speaks a welcome: “Jesus”, means “the LORD saves”. A reassuring angel appears to Joseph and explains the meaning of the baby’s name, who is fully God and fully human: ‘that which is conceived in her [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:20-21).
Despite human indifference and utter hostility towards Jesus - we are His ‘enemies,’ as Romans 5:10 uncomfortably explains - Jesus welcomes us. We call this welcome ‘the incarnation.’ It means that God comes in - into our human flesh; into our reality.
Jesus welcomes us in His most tender of postures: being born as a little baby. And Jesus welcomes us in His most selfless of acts: stretching out His open arms to us, as He died on the cross for us – that first Easter. Romans 5:10 continues, “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son.”
Experience Jesus’ welcome this Christmas
This Christmas, you can experience Jesus’ welcome to you, not only from a manger, but also from a saleyard. That is because, as a rural chaplaincy, we are helping to organise ‘Carols at the Co-op’, kindly hosted by Rathfriland Livestock Market.
It is planned for Friday, 8 December, 7.30pm. Local school children will be singing. Farmers will also take part. A praise group will lead us in well-known Christmas carols, and there will be an easily understood explanation of why Jesus was born to welcome us.
If you arrive early (from 7pm) soup will be served before we begin. At the end, there will be Christmas treats for everyone, including the children. Why are we hosting ‘Carols at the Co-op’? Simply, because we want you to know and enjoy the heartbeat of Christmas - God’s Son Jesus, coming in human from, coming into our situations, to welcome us to God.
Deep down, we know it is possible for love and forgiveness and hope to break through the sin and mess of this world. Deep down, we long for this to last forever. And if you will call out to Jesus today, He will welcome you into His never-ending love, forgiveness and hope.
Or, if you would like to find out more about how Jesus welcomes you, come along to ‘Carols at the Co-op’. Even better, bring a family member, friend, or neighbour along with you. You are all very welcome.
Rev Kenny Hanna is the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s first Rural Chaplain. Growing up on the family farm in the Kingdom of Mourne, he began serving in parish ministry in 2001 in Glenwherry. Prior to his appointment as Rural Chaplain, he was minister of Second Dromara Presbyterian Church for 10 years. He continues to farm part-time.
His blog appeared in today’s Farming Life, a fortnightly column entitled ‘Good News for the Countryside’, where people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life.
Photo: Christmas wreath by Osman Rana on Unsplash
You can look at other blogs in this series here. If you would like to talk to Kenny about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 07938 488 372.