Kurt Jacobson
7 min readDec 31, 2023

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“The One Detail that Matters”

December 31, 2023

Luke 2:8–16

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors! When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. ***

On this 7th Day of Christmas — the story of the coming of Jesus continues. I know many people have moved on from Christmas. The tree has been tossed out or packed away in the basement. Soon the outside Christmas lights will be switched off and we will spend the next several weeks enduring those long, dark evenings.

No matter if you have packed up the signs of Christmas or if you hold to the tradition of the 12 days of Christmas, the story of God remains — the amazing truth of Divine life come to earth. It is a story that has changed the course of the world and, I hope, our lives, too.

Stories are important. We all have them — they comprise our lives and they have lots of details, some insignificant, others absolutely key to who we are.

When we tell our stories, there are usually some details that we cannot leave out. Whether its where you were born or how your grandmother came to live with you when you were a child; or how you met your spouse or how old you were when you dad died, or maybe as lighthearted as the layout of the green where you got that hole in one — there are details that are important to the stories of our lives.

Listening to the stories of people, we gain a better understanding of what has shaped their lives.

Over the years I listened to a lot of people’s stories and heard a lot of details that had an impact on them.

I recall being at a small rural cemetery one summer afternoon. After the burial had concluded, a sweet, elderly man from the congregation I served invited me to walk with him over to the graves of his family. Standing and looking at the markers, he told me he was the last of 12 children. He pointed to his father’s grave and talked about what it was like when at age 12 his father died, leaving him to take over the farm, since his older brothers had already grown up and moved away. Then he pointed to his brother Carl’s grave. Carl had died in 1918 at age 25 — a victim of the 1918 pandemic. Then he told me what it was like to live through the pandemic. And the stories went on. I left that day with a better picture of this man’s life — and when I presided at his funeral a few years later many people came to hear the stories of his life. As we buried him next to these relatives, the details of the story of his life came back to me.

The story of God that draws us together at Christmas has details, too. There are details about an angel and a dramatic announcement to shepherds out in the countryside. There are details about the shepherd’s curiosity that compelled them to check out the news of a birth. I have wondered about the details told us regarding no room in the inn. Do you think that is true? Maybe the innkeeper had a room available, but noticed this unmarried couple, the woman obviously very pregnant, and decided he did not approve. So he told them “sorry, no room in the Inn.”

This story of Christmas would be important without all the details, because the truth of the story is still the same: God loved this world so much, that God became one of us, so that we might know that God is FOR US.

Eight years ago, a group of people from the congregation I served visited Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, which is said to be the very place where Jesus was born and laid in a manger. This spot is considered so holy, that three Christian traditions, Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Armenian have all laid claim to it for centuries. Each of the traditions have priests and monks that live at this spot in an uneasy truce.

It is not uncommon for these guys to feud over the place. They accuse each other of encroaching on parts of the church to which they lay exclusive claim. A few years before our visit, the annual cleaning of this church deteriorated into a brawl between rival priests and monks battling each other with brooms until police intervened.

Sadly, this Christmas there are no crowds visiting Bethlehem — behind the wall in the Palestinian Territories West Bank. No doubt this brings hardship for the people who own and work in the shops and cafes that dot Manger Square. It was at one of those little outdoor cafes where some of my travel companions and I sat down for a drink late one afternoon. When the server realized we were Americans, the Palestinian music which was playing when we arrived suddenly switched to Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas.”

Today with the strife in that country affecting millions of innocent people, the final lines of that famous song have a pull to my heart strings : “May your days be merry and bright.”

Having been to Bethlehem a couple times, I have been enlightened beyond expectation as it presents a very different picture than all the Nativity scenes you have ever laid eyes upon. The church that has been built over the supposed spot of Jesus’ birth is not impressive. Back to one of the details of the story. Had the Innkeeper opened a room for Mary and Joseph the Church in Bethlehem may never have been built. I wonder if the innkeeper ever realized who he was turning away that night. Details, details.

Yet, the overarching story is unchanged. The birthday of Jesus that brought billions of people across this world into churches this past week, is not about what an innkeeper did 2,000 years ago. It is not about a spot where a young woman gave birth. It is about what God did, and what God still does. And it is about what we do next.

Christmas is not simply about recalling the story with all its details. Likewise, all the activity that has marked your recent weeks — the shopping, decorating, food preparation, traveling, gatherings with family and friends has to be about more than just an event that happened long, long ago.

For Christmas to have any lasting value in our lives, this story we love to hear and sing about absolutely must teach us about opening ourselves to God. I think God is waiting for us to get to the important detail intended for us in the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem. And when we get to that detail in our daily living, then the world has a better chance for lasting hope.

It has been a rough year here on planet Earth: More than 114 million people worldwide have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict, persecution and human rights violations (according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR on Oct 25, 2023).

Added to that, the list of horrors and crimes against humanity is long. Religions continue to be misaligned by extremists who misrepresent timeless, loving truths about God — and well, I suspect we all could use a good measure of hope that next year will be better. I have to believe that God hopes the same. But that brings me back to the details of the story of Christmas and what that means for us.

The important detail that God wishes to be at the core of your life starts in the birth of a Savior and then it continues.

After Jesus grew up, he was asked about what God wants of people. He answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, the detail has to do with love — loving open the door of your heart and let everyone be a part of it!

Now that all the best Christmas cookies have been eaten, the relatives departed, the tree down and the nativity set stored away for another year, what remains? That is the ultimate test of the details of this Christmas celebration. And I suspect the success or failure of that test will be in how well we open our hearts and let that detail of love born at Christmas go to the core of our being — to influence all that we say and do for the sake of our neighbors who like us — continue to look for and need the hope-filled love that was born in Bethlehem.

Image: Artranked.com

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Kurt Jacobson

Author of “Living Hope” & “Welcoming Grace.” Lutheran preacher (retired) but still writing to inspire and aim for a world of mercy, love and respect.