Mary, Joseph, a donkey and Prince Philip… I spent Sunday evening with them and what an evening it was.
Now, before some of you come to the conclusion that my obsession with the royal family has reached a worryingly new level and that I’ve joined the royal household as a stablehand, I should explain that it was my church nativity this weekend. It was entitled, ‘By Royal Appointment’, brilliantly contrasting (I can say so because I had absolutely nothing to do with the script!) the birth of the Lord Jesus with the birth of a royal baby. We even had our own news reporter – Huw Edwards, Nicolas Witchell and Jenny Bond all pale in comparison to the Royal correspondent, that is Sid Smith.
The kids were great (Mary and Joseph seemed to like each other, which is always a plus), the songs were awesome (I’m still humming a ‘marvellous plan in Bethlehem’), the costumes rivalled Strictly’s wardrobe, the narration was… well, a bit Northern Irish in some parts, but the audience was very forgiving (thankfully there was no need to say ‘power shower’ at any point- they wouldn’t have had such facilities in the stable anyway) and their Royal Highnesses graced us with their presence amidst party poppers and great fanfare!
At the end of the evening we were reminded that the birth of the Lord Jesus, unlike the make-believe royal birth, was a real event – a real event that has great significance for all of us because Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23) came to live among us and ultimately to die for us! What an amazing reality for us as Christians, but do I believe that it is REAL? Did the parents and grandparents who were there see the reality of the gospel in me?
In fact as listened to this I was reminded of my bible reading earlier in the week in the final chapters of Matthew. As I read those dramatic chapters, which include love, betrayal and denial and the individuals whose lives the Lord had an impact on in the period leading up to His death, I couldn’t help but think, ‘this gospel is REAL!’ Of course I know it is real, but it was like I was reading the words of the Roman centurion with fresh eyes, ‘Truly this is the Son of God!’ (Matthew 27:45). I love how the Lord can take your thoughts and then they pop up again… in the middle of the nativity, with donkeys, cows and sheep singing ‘hay, hay, hay!’
Indeed I have truly seen the reality of this gospel over the past few Tuesday evenings when I’ve been on my social placement. As a Christian, and especially as someone brought up in a Christian family it can be easy to sometimes find yourself questioning the reality of it all. However, when you see lives changed by the power of the Lord Jesus you know it is REAL!
You know it’s real when a drug addict’s life is changed so much that they just want to talk to you about the bible when they see you!
You know it’s real when you see hope on the face and in the eyes of a teenager who thinks his life is going nowhere, but has just had the reality of the gospel explained to him for the first time!
You know it’s real when you hear someone who is struggling with life say that they know they just need to leave their problems at the foot of the Cross… if only I would remember to do this!
You know it’s real when you hear an ex drug addict pray for one of their friends, reminding them that that they are fearfully and wonderfully made! (Psalm 139)
This is REAL!
It was REAL in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, it was REAL when the Lord Jesus said, ‘It is finished!’, and it was REAL when the angel said, ‘He is not here, for he has has risen!’ (Matthew 28:6). Paul reminds us that, ‘the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the the dead dwells in you’ (Romans 8:11), so let’s live out the reality of that power within us! Indeed at the end of Matthew, the Lord Jesus commissioned us to do just that when he told us to, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations…’ (Matthew 28:19) Let’s live out the reality of the gospel in our churches, to our friends, our neighbours, the person we meet at the gym, the lady we sit next to on the plane…
And if we do? I believe the Lord will show Himself to be real to us in 2017 and I am excited for that!