Hidden within the Christmas story is I believe, an example of how best to live our lives. It’s a story about caring for others, celebrating diversity, and understanding our shared humanity.
The nativity account brings together a cast of characters from every part of society – characters who couldn’t be any more different from one another. They are all integral in the unfolding drama and despite their different backgrounds their lives cross paths.
The story brings together…
- The powerful
- The rich and the wealthy
- The insignificant and the poor
- And those looked down on and considered untrustworthy
There’s Mary – a teenage girl who discovers she’s pregnant and understandably she doesn’t quite know how to tell her husband to be. It’s not just that she’s about to have a child out of wedlock which would have attracted a lot of shame and dishonour at the time…
But Joseph, her older fiancé, is about to discover, he’s not the father of the baby.
Then a group of shepherds enter from stage left. They were the first people outside of Mary and Joseph to hear about the birth of Jesus. They have what can only be described as a supernatural encounter with a group of angels. The shepherds were on the very bottom rung of society. At the time it was forbidden “to buy wool, milk or goats from a shepherd…because it would be more than likely stolen property.” They were despised people especially by the religious leaders at the time.
And then we have the Wise Men. They are astrologers from the East searching for the birth of an important king foretold in the alignment of the stars and planets. They believe they’ll find this important baby in the palace where they encounter Herod, a vengeful King desperate to cling to power at all costs.
The story brings all these characters together under the roof of a simple stable – where a fragile and vulnerable baby born to impoverished parents is lying wrapped in strips of cloth.
I’m sure we can all bring-to-mind a picture of that first Christmas and what it might have looked like.
But let’s imagine that at the critical moments in the story each of our characters act instead with self-interest. How might our final scene be different?
What if Mary started her relationship with Joseph with a lie convincing him that he was really the dad?
What if Joseph, to save face and condemnation from everyone else, decides to shun Mary leaving her to handle the birth on her own?
We’ve already heard that the shepherds would do anything to make a quick buck…so what if instead of rushing to find the baby they calculate just how much they could make from the story of their supernatural encounter. They could live off a story like that for a long time…embellishing it to make it sound even more incredible.
Then there are our Wise Men who ended up at the palace of King Herod. The nativity story reveals just how violent a King he was and perhaps sensing their danger, the wise men decide their trip was in vain and go back in the direction they had come from. It would be great to find the special baby but not if it meant risking their lives.
So how do each of these individual decisions change our nativity story?
It’s possible that instead of the crowded scene in the stable, that we have Mary on her own. No husband for comfort, and no visitors to make a fuss of the baby. A frightened and lonely young girl facing a very uncertain future.
Every day we pass people who have no one to turn to or rely on when life gets difficult; often through no fault of their own. The nativity story is a reminder that we are all connected to one another; your wellbeing is connected to mine and mine to yours. The story is an invitation to live a life that’s more than always putting ourselves first.
So, what might that look like in practice?
There’s been a video doing the rounds on social media over the past couple of weeks of people using their Amazon Prime to have goods and gifts delivered to people living on the streets.
It’s a very 21st Century response and shows what’s possible when we use what we already have.
I don’t know what jumps out to you most from the video. It’s clear that it wasn’t just about the physical items that people received, although I’m sure they were incredibly helpful. But those on the streets were embraced, they were considered and known by their names. Perhaps most importantly they were asked what they needed, rather than it being assumed.
So as we reflect on the Christmas story…
- What gifts might we be able to share with others this Christmas?
- Who might we pass every day that need our help most?
- How can we create communities that celebrates diversity and acknowledges that we are all connected?
- And what unexpected places might we end up when we reach out to those who need our help most?