25 December 2013Luke 2:1-20
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (v. 7)
This story is grounded in time by Luke's Gospel because time matters. It was in the rule Augustus, a real character whose head comes up on coins found on Time Team. It was under the governorship of Quirinius, a real governor, and took place in real historical locations - Joseph and Mary travelling with the bump from Nazareth to Judea, to a place called Bethlehem. The journey can be made today; though despite modern methods of travel, it will involve you in the challenging experience of ancient boundaries and conflicts hard landscaped into the area. Luke's Gospel wants us to know this actually happened; to evoke in us the vulnerability of travelling, close to term, of a young woman about to have her first baby; of an anxious husband-to-be forced by decree to travel and ensure a safe place for his fiancé; of a place full to the brim with people, and having little regard, or care, or space for a child to be born.
Luke wants us to hear of the shepherds in their fields (verses 8-20), and assumes we know how lowly their status. He wants us to see the nervous new mother with a child that comes, as all babies, without clear instructions or a helpful contact number. If he could Luke would want us to scratch the paper and smell the shelter for the baby and the shepherds in their work clothes. This is the point, the theological point, and it matters to read this as theology and not just an ancient tale or the basis of a million scripts and dramas - God, really, concretely, in time, in place 'with us'.
And we are meant to notice the angels; the wonder of a God moment, expressed by beings outside our normal experience, but seen in the midst of what is intended as the most basic and human of times.
Someone once said to me, "it's more than a story, it's true". In fact it is so true that it can only be told as a story, one to 'inhabit' and enjoy as children do so well. It cannot be dissected or simply agreed to. We are not asked: do you believe it happened? We asked far more than this to enter into and live it. "Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man." (Charles Wesley)
- It's Christmas day so simply ponder these things in your heart like Mary and enjoy the feasting.