The Christmas story is probably the best known story ever told. Even those who don’t participate in Christianity as their faith know the story of a peasant woman giving birth to the Christ child.
The whole world can’t escape this story because of what the commercial world has done to it also. I was in a store in early October and saw the clerks putting up Christmas trees. I casually asked one of those clerks, ‘you do know it’s October right?’ All he could do was roll his eyes. Christmas and/or the holiday season has become a standing lament for all that it starts too early and ends too quickly.
There are interesting aspects of this story, though, that I believe are intentionally part of the story yet don’t get much attention. I will talk in more detail about these things on Christmas eve because I think they are there to magnify important points. See if you have thought about things like this:
–Jesus is born in Bethlehem because it is the city of David. It is essential to the understanding of Messiah that he be born there to continue the lineage from David;
–the holy family has to travel to Bethlehem because of a census. Truth is there is no record of a census at this time but nevertheless the story has them traveling many, many miles with Mary on a donkey and Joseph on foot. Why do they have to go all the way to Bethlehem for this census? Because the census required all to return to their place of birth to register for that census. How many of us live in the town we were born in? Very few. Yet were we alive then we would have to go all the way home to our birthplace to be counted;
–there is every reason to believe that the ‘inn’ that had no room could have been a family member of Joseph’s house. After all his family was there; wouldn’t someone have given them a room in their home?
–the innkeeper that informs the holy family there is no room doesn’t even exist in the story. Read it again (Luke 2). That poor innkeeper has been the villain of every Christmas pageant since the first one yet he doesn’t even exist. We’re going to spend a considerable amount of time on the innkeeper and his wife in my message on Christmas eve;
–the manger, which we portray so beautifully in our creche scenes, in reality isn’t beautiful at all. In fact a manger is actually a trough, a place for animal food or water. Often made of wood but sometimes of stone, this small receptacle was the most comforting of places for our Jesus to rest after his birth. A tiny object, made of rough material, yet the most holy of objects when done. My message on Christmas eve will also center on the importance of the mangers in our lives, the manger we create for Jesus in our life, where he can rest and feel loved.
The Christmas story isn’t complicated, but it is multi-layered. I think, sometimes, besides losing the essence of the season in our shopping and parties and family gatherings, we lose the essence of the story when we don’t see how God surprises us in who he teaches through, where they do their teaching and how even the lowest of the low are important to the overall story.
Join us this Sunday for a beautiful, simple Morning Prayer service of readings and carols, then Christmas eve where I will explore each of the points in this post and more as a way of seeing the birth of Jesus in a new, personal way.
And here is how our Presiding Bishop sends us into Christmas. Enjoy this video of him about God’s love in giving:
Peace and all good,