As we come to the end of another busy year, the commemoration of the birth of Christ comes as a shining beacon of hope to a world which is too often cynical and disillusioned, or preoccupied with material possessions.
When we reflect on the event itself, the birth of a Jewish baby boy in a stable in a remote corner of the Roman empire – then the most powerful empire the world had ever seen – it is humanly impossible to believe that in that moment, the world as it had existed since man first stood on earth, was changed forever. Yet so it was.
In St Luke's infancy narrative, we are introduced into the extraordinary paradoxes of Jesus' birth.
His birth in Bethlehem was not noticed by the Romans who were busy registering people for a new tax, nor by the Roman-appointed King Herod, but by poor shepherds who slept with their flocks in the fields at night, and had witnessed the coming of a legion of angels who announced to them His coming.
A short time later, Herod heard of the birth of a new king from the Magi, mysterious but influential religious figures who came from a distant country to the east, perhaps from Persia.
The Magi, sometimes called the "wise men", believed that a new astronomical event – called by Luke a star – foretold the rise of a new king of Israel. When they told Herod what they had seen, he undoubtedly believed them, and consulted with the leaders of the Jewish faith as to where the Messiah was to be born. Luke tells us that the visit of the Magi caused consternation in Jerusalem.
On being advised that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, Herod sent the Magi to the town, and asked them to return to Jerusalem to tell him where the child was to be found, so that he too could worship Him.
When the Magi did not return, Luke tells us that Herod had every newborn child under the age of two then living in Bethlehem murdered, to prevent any threat to his throne. The massacre of the innocents is repeated today in our own society, in the sterile operating theatres of the abortionists.
And yet that apparently inconspicuous birth in Bethlehem changed the world ... and changed us forever. Let us celebrate it, and reflect on it.
Peter Westmore is publisher of AD2000.