This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission.
Imagine you’re watching a television programme. It’s an episode of a popular “soap opera” you don’t normally watch. Although you’re not familiar with the characters or story lines you’re learning quite a lot from watching this one episode. You’re seeing most of the main characters and getting an idea of their personalities and relationships. You’re watching developments in the story lines: there’s a wedding being planned, someone’s moving house and there’s a dodgy business deal going on. By the end of the episode you’re interested enough to start watching regularly to see what happens. After a while you get to know the characters better. You learn some of the history behind the stories and how individuals and families relate to each other. You can join in conversations about the latest twist in the plots and speculate as to what happens next. It’s a harmless entertainment, a bit of escapism after a stressful day.
Today we hear the story of the first Christmas and in some ways it’s a bit like watching an episode of a long running drama with vivid characters, complicated relationships and strands of different stories weaving together to make the complete picture. The difference is that this is an episode in God’s eternal story and we’re characters in it. We’re not viewers, we’re involved as participants – and it’s not escapism – it’s for real.
This episode in God’s drama, is probably familiar to us. We know the characters:
- Mary who willingly accepts God’s plan for her to bear His Son.
- Joseph, a man of integrity and faith who marries Mary knowing she’s pregnant with a child that’s not his.
- The baby, born to be a King but cradled in a manger since his parents couldn’t find a room to stay in.
- The shepherds, told by a whole company of angels that, in the city of David, they will find a Saviour who is the Messiah, the Lord.
It’s a dramatic episode with many stories:
- the people of an occupied country being made to travel for registration by the occupying authorities;
- the arrival of a heavily pregnant woman in the crowded town; the birth of a baby;
- angels in the sky and amazed shepherds spreading the story of what they had heard and seen.
What we witness in this familiar story is none other than God coming to be a human being alongside us and we can continue to witness the unfolding of this story. In Jesus, we’ll see God sharing in all the experiences of human life, good and bad. We’ll see God’s love openly demonstrated, his healing power at work and even his willingness to die upon the cross rather than compromise the love that is born today. And, above all, we’ll see the triumph of love over death when Jesus is raised from the dead into new and eternal life.
What about our part in all this? We have all come to this Christmas day by different routes and with different experiences behind us. We’ll go forward from today in separate ways to face varied futures.
But has this episode in God’s great story made us want to know more about the characters, their history and what happens next? It’s an important question because we’re not spectators of this drama. We’re the people this baby was born for. We’re the people this baby grew up to heal, to teach and to make whole. We’re the people this baby grew up to die for and we’re the people who bear witness to his resurrection into new life.
Perhaps we’re already playing the part that God has called us to play. Perhaps we’re still just watching but interested enough to want to be more involved and to know more. Each year the church celebrates Christmas but throughout each year the church also tells again the story which goes back in time to the creation of all things and looks ahead to the future when God’s kingdom is established on earth. Maybe this is the year when we want to renew our commitment, or make a new commitment, to be among the people who gather week by week to hear more of the story and to share their experiences of being part of it.
Whoever we are and wherever we come from, we will receive a welcome at the manger from our risen Lord, Jesus Christ, who is born to set us free and to bring us into his eternal resurrection life.
1. The story of the birth of Jesus is set in the context of other stories. There are the stories of all the people involved and the great story of God’s redeeming work within his creation.
2. We are part of this story which continues to unfold.
3. We can chose to respond to the story by becoming involved in it and playing our part in bringing about the fulfilment of God’s purposes.