For here we have mysteries beyond our understanding (The creator of the universe all wrapped up in a human shaped parcel – nope, still can’t quite get my head round it). There’s Hope deferred and fulfilled – the opening of the story is a bubbling cauldron of expectation from all quarters. And Magic abounds: Supernatural Shining beings appearing right left and centre; Dreams and visions; Miraculous/Unusual pregnancies; men struck dumb and magical practitioners who see the true fulfillment of the hopes of many bring gifts that just happen to show the child’s future – that of King (Gold), Priest (Frankincense) and Sacrifice (Myrrh).
It’s a carefully crafted story and one which embodies the best in stories in that it’s part of a bigger story (The greatest story ever told?) but also is comprised of its own vignettes built together to create what we know as “The nativity”. On its own, Mary and Joseph going from one town to another, finding no room and Mary giving birth to an unusual child would have been a pleasant enough tale and enough to set the stage for the events of thirty years later. But it’s not left just at that. It is crafted episodically, built up from snapshots of humanity to draw us into the heart of the story, to give us a heavenly view and to really “get” what’s going on.
Each episode itself can also stand on its own and yet fulfills its subservient role to the greater tale, shedding light on all the other episodes. And how we see each episode, that tells us a little about ourselves, a little about how we might see God and how much of our selfishness, prejudices and pre-conceptions we may have to throw out of the window.
How much we may have to reconsider Zechariah’s dumbness as a punishment and instead simply being a way of preventing misplaced words from interrupting plans?
How much we may have to reconsider how two cousins really felt about being pregnant at the same time when one was “over the hill” and the other had never even been under one.
How much we may have to balance whether Joseph was brave, radical, or a weakling whose mind was only made up for him by an encounter with an alien being.
How much we have to reconsider that the “three wise men” were magicians, kooks, astrologers; the kind of people I’ve heard so many of my “christian” brothers ans sisters rail against. Yet while the Religious men were faithfully following the law to the letter, these shamans, magicians and druids were the ones who recognised the signs of the heavens and sought out the one who was the culmination of all their teachings. If the vignette of the Magi teaches us anything it’s that God’s tent is a lot bigger than any of us expected it to be and more inclusive than some of us want it to be.
And how much do we see the inclusion of the Shepherds as truly God’s practical joke on all the “religious” of the world. Of all those who ask you and I to jump through this hoop, or say that particular prayer, or read this book, or fast this way. Because these guys did absolutely nothing to deserve being invited to see the face of God. They were not looking for God, they had not ticked any boxes, they were not acceptable, they were not popular, they were not good. They were doing a crappy job and had to do it at night. And they didn’t even do it properly…. they left the flock on the hillside, vulnerable to predators and thieves! And yet, they were included. They were the ones who were honoured to witness a trailer of Heaven’s Glory with the world’s first Flashmob comprising Angels. Impressive. Inclusive. God’s idea of relationship rather than our idea of religion.
That’s why it really is the greatest story ever told.
Final Random thought: Hope itself is a magical thing, a talisman that helps us endure, a light that shows us the way as we crawl through the dark dungeons of life. That the warrior Israel was hoping for never came, but instead they got a baby followed by a little boy, followed by a man who told them “Love your enemies”….that’s the kind of hope that surprises, exceeds expectations and that heals hearts.
Happy Christmas friends.
*Note – Pictures courtesy of our Messy Church Congregation, Splat! One of the finest groups of people it has been my pleasure to know. Find out more about Messy Church here.