Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Ordinary Miracle of Christmas



In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.  This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.  Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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. 
 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, * praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’  

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’  So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.  But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.-Luke 2:1-20

We are still amazed at what the shepherds tell us, amazed even that we are amazed at this story. For the dirt-poor pregnant unmarried teenager who brings a child into the world upon whom she lays her nation's hope for salvation is not really so different from any young mother in poverty and oppression across the ages and around the globe. Young mothers always believe in the possibility that their child will be the one who ends the war or finds the cure for cancer or makes the streets safe again or sends the occupiers packing. And it is not really so miraculous that a child could be born apart from the usual way. For it happens every day in fertility clinics across the planet. 

It is in fact, the very ordinariness of the story that fascinates us. The ordinary hopes of an ordinary mother. The ordinary recklessness of ordinary young people taking chances with life and ending up struggling against poverty, pain and panic. In the ordinary face of a baby the story calls us to see a God incarnate in the ordinary. 

We can demythologize the Nativity story, chalking angels, shepherds, mad kings and magi up to  the myth-making of the religious enthusiast. We can find all sorts of ancient stories of Gods come to walk among us, of grand and wise prophets misunderstood by their contemporaries who meet sad and untimely ends, of mothers' broken hearts and the unfulfilled hopes of people living in darkness yearning to see a great light. But demythologizing this story will not rob it of its power. For it is our story and that is its power. 

The Jesus story is not true because of its miracles. It is true because its ordinariness. It is true because in the deepest part of our hearts we know that every mother fears the sword that may pierce her own soul, that every night angels sing, and that shepherds tell tales of music that echoes off the stars, and that every baby's face shines with the image of God. 

The ordinary story of Jesus, Lord and Savior, Messiah and Martyr, is the story of love, of hope, of goodness, faith and sacrifice. The human story. The Word made Flesh. Our story.

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