Maybe you’ve played an angel or a shepherd, or, if you were one of the “chosen few,” you’ve pulled off a smiling Mary holding a swaddled doll. The Sunday School re-enactment of the Nativity is a part of every Christian kid’s growing rites.
Over the years, we’ve read – and re-read - the passages from the gospels about the angels and the shepherds and the wise men. We’ve heard it expounded from pulpits. We’ve expertly arranged little porcelain figurines in a wooden manger on our living room shelf. We know the plot and the characters all too well.
As another Christmas awaits us, I wonder if we hear the story like it’s a feel-good fairy tale? If we’ve allowed the familiarity of the Nativity to numb us? If we approach the mystery of the manger with a casualness that leaves us unchallenged?
Perhaps, this Christmas, it’s time to revisit the familiar, and allow God to startle us with the wonder of that Holy Night.
Take a minute to think of Mary. Her response to Gabriel’s announcement is shockingly unexpected. Which other girl, excitedly anticipating her wedding day, would praise God for the news that she is with child? The astounding beauty of her response in Luke 1 shakes me to my very core. “My soul will magnify the Lord,” she declares with joy, that effortlessly spills out of an overflowing heart.
Does your heart and mine sing with praise even when we don’t know what lies ahead? Do we choose a response of worship in an overwhelming situation? Are we so focussed on the immediate that we forget to welcome the Emmanuel?
Let’s consider the quiet man who mainly stays in the background – Joseph. He wants to do the “right” thing by quietly divorcing his fiancée, without bringing her shame. But instead he chooses the “righteous” thing. He responds to a socially unacceptable situation with God-given grace. He welcomes his wife – and then shoulders the immense responsibility of raising the Saviour on the dusty streets of Jerusalem.
Are we astounded by Joseph’s humility, of his willingness to obey in the face of certain social ostracisation? Is our walk with God too safe, too “right,” too tame? Or do we allow Him to stretch us to where we live to please Him?
Think about the harsh journey they took to Bethlehem. Several days in the bitter cold. Chafed feet. Aching backs. Sheer exhaustion. And then only to have doors shut in their face. Relegated to a barn as a birthing room. The absolute raw humanness of it all. In our narratives of the Nativity, we’ve created one-dimensional characters in a sanitised plot, complete with cute animals and fresh-smelling hay. But this was real life. Mary and Joseph endured because they were entrusted with a high calling.
Does the journey that you’re on seem impossibly difficult? Are you and I fixing our eyes on Jesus as we put one foot in front of the other? Have we put our hope in a Saviour or simply in a situation?
We can continue on … the Nativity unfolds with sparkling beauty and deep sacredness. But let’s pray for fresh eyes to see and soft hearts to obey. And then let us be astounded by the greatest mystery of all: That the God of all creation would choose to love us, even while we turned our backs on Him. That Jesus would choose to be made vulnerable so we could have victory over sin and death.
Yes, we may be intimately familiar with the story. But when we share an intimately real relationship with God, He draws us in a little closer and He whispers His truths in our hearts.