Some thoughts from Christmas Eve...
What if Mary Had Scrapbooked…
Christmas Eve Message 2015
Do you ever wonder if Mary scrapbooked? Sometimes I think we’d all like to see Mary’s baby book for Jesus, and a scrapbook of her engagement, maybe, too. Some selfies of the trip to Bethlehem would answer quite a few questions for us. We’d really like to see a snapshot of the angels—either Gabriel or the whole host of them. I heard a preacher once say that all angels are male, and how that was important for people to understand. I’m not sure why it was so important, but I can say that people have spent a lot of time trying to draw or paint or sculpt what the angels looked like.
And wouldn’t it be nice to know more about the shepherds that showed up? Did they smell as bad as we think they would have? How long did they stay? What did they do with their sheep? What did they do after they left?
Maybe we’d also like to know what the manger actually looked like. I read an article a couple years ago that talked about how there is no way Jesus was born out back in a stable or a cave with no other family around because that is not how the culture would have worked. There may not have been room in the guestroom (which is one translation of the Greek word that’s usually translated as “the inn”), but there would have been space for Mary and Joseph in a common room, where animals also spent the night inside. If Joseph were traveling back to his ancestral home, any distant family member would have been obligated to welcome him, if he could state his lineage. So, where did they stay? Were there really animals in the room with them? And what family members attended to Mary? How did the whole birth go?
The writer of Luke does tell us several interesting details about the birth of Jesus: who was the ruler at the time, why Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem, and who came and visited after Jesus was born—but he seems to tell us just enough to leave us wanting more information. Maybe it’s the scientific nature of our society, or maybe it’s just human nature: we want all the facts and we want to know who is right about them and who is wrong. Just what did Jesus look like? And how old was Mary? We want the facts. Just the facts.
Yet, Luke, or more importantly, God, just doesn’t quite work that way. Luke apparently tells us just as much as we really need to know, though we might think we need to know more. And the writer of John, well he doesn’t satisfy our curiosity about Jesus’ birth at all! “The Word was with God and the Word was God,” and all this other nonsense—what does it all mean?
It’s quite an incredible story. And God had been telling the people for years that something was going to happen—we hear that from Isaiah and all the prophets. Still, for as much as the prophets had nagged and preached for years and years, the people still didn’t understand what God was doing. With as many details as we can gather from Luke, there is still enough mystery about the whole thing that we may very often just miss what is going on here. You see, as incredible of a story as it is, and with as many questions as it leaves us with, what Luke does tell us is meant to be enough. Verse 20 ends with this statement: “Everything happened just as they [the shepherds] had been told.” Though we don’t have all the details here, we have confirmation, and there are witnesses, that the story is true…even if we don’t know how it all looked. And isn’t that what faith is about—that we believe in what we haven’t seen? The writer of Hebrews even defines faith that way, right?
It is mystery, this incarnation, why God would come as a plain old human baby. The real human nature of Jesus is both the greatest gift and the biggest scandal of all. For God to become one just like us means not only that God knows what we’ve been through but also that we can learn to become more like God…if we are willing to. And though we’d like to see some scrapbooks of Jesus’ birth and life, sometimes his being just like us gets a little too close for comfort. You mean that God would be here in our midst? Would come to show us a new way of being? Would expect us to pay attention to such an incredible story? It seems too good to be true…or too difficult to be true, sometimes. We might be a little more comfortable with such a story and such a God if we could keep a safe distance. We might like it if Jesus weren’t quite just like us. If here weren’t really human, then we could give ourselves a break. But one of my friends likes to point out that Jesus was not a superhero whose superpower was dying for our sins. Jesus was a real human, just so that the rest of us humans could be changed forever by his simple birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection.
It is a strange story, indeed. If we are familiar with the “end” of it, then the fact that the beginning is a little mysterious should not surprise us at all. In a few months we will again tell ourselves more of this strange story. We might again wish for some snapshots or actual film footage of what went on. And we will again be left with a whole lot of questions…but God has given us imagination, even without all the details. And better than that, God has given us certainty in the promise of God’s Word and through the living flesh of God’s Son that, indeed, it is true, and we are right to come in praise and celebration, with joy and hope, even in the dark of night, looking for a little baby boy. Jesus. The Christ. Emmanuel. God with us.
Christ is born! Merry Christmas!