THE CHRISTMAS STORY

When I began writing this post I was going to reflect on the meaning of the incarnation but it ended up being a paraphrase of Jesus’ birth narratives in Luke 2:1-21 and Matthew 2:1-23 with the meaning still left open for contemplation. Then I decided that this might be a good alternative to the traditional Scripture reading at our family gathering which happened earlier this evening.

The mystery and the profundity of the incarnation caused another layer of reflection for me this Christmas season. It is an almost unbelievable fantastical story if you really think about it: first of all, just the idea that a divine being would become a human being is crazy enough. And then, choose to be a person who was part of a small, struggling, nomadic nation during a time of foreign occupation and oppression? These people did have pipe dreams of freedom and prosperity when a great leader would release them from oppression. But they did not expect it like this.

Perhaps most ridiculous of all is how it all happened. A teenage virgin—this has to be pointed out—is visited by an angelic being who tells her she is pregnant with a divinely conceived child. Being a compliant young lady in a time when such visitations were more commonplace, she accepts this as her reality. When her fiancé—who knows he has not had sex with her—finds out, he decides, being an honourable man, that he will quietly divorce her. Until he has a dream in which he is told that everything will be okay, go ahead and get married, your girlfriend has not been sleeping around.

As often happens in a time of occupation, the empirical power has ordered a census and forces everyone to travel to their ancestral hometown to be counted. Perhaps it was a way to escape the wagging tongues, we don’t know, but the two embark on a journey to the man’s hometown in dutiful obedience. They have barely arrived when the young woman goes into labour and gives birth unexpectedly in rented, makeshift accommodations far from home. The first visitors are sheepherders out in the hills and on the margins of society who receive a visitation from angelic beings in the middle of the night shift—perhaps after too much strong drink around the campfire the evening before! A cosmic choir sings to them about a royal birth and peace on earth. This is all quite overwhelming and they don’t see babies every day so they go into town to check it out. When they see the proclaimed royal child in a setting they are very familiar with, they are over the moon with excitement; so much so that they spread the gossip all over town. The young mother is just bleary-eye tired and overwhelmed, and wonders what’s going on.

The young couple eventually marries and the little family seems to live in virtual anonymity until more visitors arrive a few years later: a foreign troupe of clairvoyants who found their way by reading patterns in the stars. Having seen visions that the star child they are seeking is of a royal variety, they check in with the local despot for directions. The despot is a puppet on the string of greater powers, a cruel and paranoid man; who, when he hears of a royal birth is bewitched with increasing fear that his replacement has been born. He does some math about when this supposed royal birth occurred and orders that all babies within a few years of that time shall be killed. These were dark days! Oh the weeping and the wailing! But in the nick of time the father of the child has a dream (Yes, another dream!)  that the child’s life is in danger. He takes mother and child; they flee in the night and become refugees to northern Africa where they find temporary shelter.

The child grows up in anonymity and around the age of thirty goes to visit his eccentric cousin in the Jordanian wilderness where he hears a voice from the heavens calling to him, “You are my beloved son and I am pleased with you.” And he has not yet done anything that anyone would find noteworthy or pleasing! With this foundational identity, he goes on to live a life of love and service to others. I invite you in 2021 to read one of the Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John to refresh your memory of this most amazing story.

This is the story of how God became a human being. I have heard this story for almost sixty years and it never ceases to amaze me. What does it all mean? This is the mystery I am again contemplating this year. It’s a story that is just too good not to be true. It is a story of love and hope. It is a story that I want to be part of and base my life on. There is nothing that makes me happier than that each of you has also become part of this story in your own unique way.