The story of the first Christmas is a story that most people know, at least in part, even if they are of a different faith or have none at all. For some, the question will be about who Jesus was, more than how he got here. The story’s depiction, as universally captured in nativity scenes, is readily recognised although I am not so sure about some young people, as the same opportunities to hear it are no longer available.
The joke about someone seeing a nativity scene at a shopping centre and complaining that religion has got involved with Christmas, is a well-worn one these days. I guess it is easy to find all sorts of reasons to celebrate the season, for those who do not link it to the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, who came into the world to save people from the consequences of their wrong-doing.
As it stands it is indeed an amazing story. In recent times there have been all sorts of questions about whether it is really true or just a made-up story to explain how God chose to send His Son into the world. Is it as made-up as Santa Claus? How else might Jesus have come? Why not as a grown man? A king? A mighty warrior on a horse? All these would have fitted the goal people thought he came with and the predictions made about him.
Today, people question: the virgin birth; all those appearances of angels; that Mary could have survived in that society, pregnant and unmarried (a stoning was on the cards); a group of “wise men” (the text doesn’t say it was three) travelling so far guided by a star to a pinpoint location? Is believing in it literally, any worse than attempting to debunk it totally? What difference would it make if any part of the story wasn’t true? Is the crux of it, that God chose to come and live in our midst, irrespective of how it happened?
Many years ago, when such a project was allowed or considered worth doing, I visited a school and randomly taped children’s responses to “What does Christmas mean to you?’, on a portable cassette recorder. (That is a voice recording device for those who don’t remember these; you would film it on your phone these days.)
I still have the tape, and used it many times over the years. But I remember some of the responses well without it. “It doesn’t mean nothing (sic) to me!” “O, you get presents and stuff.” “A special meal with your family!” Some of the responses were a bit sad and empty.
After a while, a little girl responded “It means going to German Church and singing Christmas songs in German.” “Is that what you do?” “Yes.” “Will you sing me a song?” And so she sang into my recording device, in a beautiful child’s voice “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). I knew that the story that song told, was very special to her.
Wherever you are, whatever you do, this Christmas, I hope you can hear (or read) ‘The Story’ afresh. (Luke 2:1-20) Try to hear it in the presence of a worshipping faith community. Consider its beauty! Celebrate its profoundness! Like Mary, take into your heart, ponder it and treasure it!
And through it, may God richly bless you this Christmas.