The Christmas story - we all know
We’ve just heard read the account of Jesus’ birth in Luke’s gospel.
We’ve seen beautiful tableaus of what Mary and Josephs time may have been like.
We have seen the most Amazing Drama with the 4 minute with Star of the Show Alan the donkey - type cast again Alan.
This Christmas story becomes Familiar words, comfortable images, happy songs
Its one of those bits of the Bible, that if I asked you to shut your Bibles and your eyes and tell me what happens, I think most of you could get pretty close to the words Luke uses.
Don’t worry I’m not going to put my theory to the test.
And if I asked you to describe the nativity scene, I’m pretty sure we know what would need to be in there.
Mary, Joseph and Jesus of course.
A stable with a manger.
An ox and donkey.
Some shepherds with maybe one or two sheep.
Three magi with their camels parked outside.
And let’s’ not forget a star over the stable.
This is the scene on the increasingly rare Christmas card, this is the scene of numerous paintings of the Nativity by great painters, this is the scene at the end of the BBC’s version of the Nativity from a few years ago.
And of course its wrong.
Yes, we read of Mary, Joseph and Jesus lying in a manger.
We don’t actually read of a stable, but this is surmised from the presence of the manger.
We don’t read of any animals.
We do read of some shepherds arriving.
We don’t read of any stars Or Magi, wise men or three kings or any camels – they turn up in Matthew’s gospel and the suggestion is Jesus is no new-born by then, but perhaps at the age of beginning to walk.
Our version of the Nativity story is a creation, it’s a mash-up.
I’m not saying this is wrong and we shouldn’t do it, but wanting to draw attention to how we have sought to sentimentalise the story, to make it almost fairy-tale like, when it was anything but.
Over time and legend, we’ve taken the danger, the trouble, the scandal, the poverty out of the story.
The Biblical story.
A story void of comfort and indulgence because it takes place at the edge of the world, so that God can show Himself under these impossible circumstance.
Where do we get the nativity scene we know and love from?
if this is the case why on earth do we end up with an Ox and Donkey at the birth of a baby, how do they come to appear in the story?
Well the answer emerges from early Christian readers of the nativity story who saw Luke’s emphasis on the manger – he mentions it three times: - lying in a manger and from a verse from the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah chapter 1 verse 3 reads:
‘the ox knows its master,
the donkey its owner’s manger,
but Israel does not know,
my people do not understand.’
This verse from Isaiah finds it fulfilment in the centre of the nativity scene.
The mystery of God’s faithful love is being revealed, is being announced.
And as onlookers we are posed the question - do we know our Master, do we recognise our Owners Manger?
Do we know God?
An incidental location.
The nativity scene is the incidental location that offers up to each of us the opportunity to see beyond the tea-towels on heads of wana-be-shepheards or plastic doll Jesus with curly blond nylon hair and eyes that close when you lay it down.
It gives us the opportunity to see the most amazing gift the can ever be given - Just as in Bethlehem, some will see this and others will remain ignorant of Jesus’ identity, and will not see past the Cardboard manger of the nativity, others will see the reality and refuse to accept or believe the tender mercy of God.
God does not force himself upon us, for he comes as vulnerable and defenceless baby, born into less than ideal circumstance.
Jesus was born in contraversey
He was born outside of the support of a wider family - why do you think he was not in the house.
He was at the margins of what we would consider respectable society - what ever that is.
A new nativity
If we strip away the trappings of history and the accumulated fables that have been added to the story we start to see the core of the story that is the nativity.
If Jesus had of been born now, today, I wonder what the Natvity story would look like.
The Boy Video.
We may have swapped location and time, we may have replaced Judea for central Europe but the story remains the same, Our manger becomes the floor of a Motorway Services toilet - Not very clean?
but then I don’t suppose a feeding trough would have been either.
We have moved from Shepherds to truck drivers but both are a community away from their families, longing to be home, living a life that is outside the comfortable 9-5 norm.
but at the heart of the story is
A newborn baby, almost small enough to fit into his father’s hands.
His arrival has unsettled everything.
The fiancée of an honest, religious man got pregnant before the marriage.
Suspicions, condemning looks and mocking glances behind their backs – this is what they have to bear while the unborn baby is developing in his mother’s womb.
The situation is the most serious test of the couple’s trust and love, of their whole relationship.
And yet, they can only count on each other.
They undertake the journey together, which is filled with fears and uncertainties.
They say ‘yes’ to the child, and thus become mother and father.
They accept and love him, anticipating his arrival.
The Boy they are holding in their arms has been born into a life of real problems, into a real family.
He has become a real human.
The focus is not the surroundings, or the culture it is A boy. “Jesus was the Son of God,” said a heathen Roman soldier thirty-three years later, when Jesus died on the cross.
Through Jesus, God was born into this world.
He knew that he would have to pay with his life for humanity, yet he did not run away from pain and death.
He knew that he would be alone during the darkest moments, that nobody would be there for him; still, he undertook the mission.
He was convicted, tortured and humiliated.
While dying on the cross, he was mocked.
Yet he endured it all.
He fulfilled the plan of God, and took on himself the sins of every human being.
The Boy died and was buried, but on the third day he rose from the dead.
He is God indeed.
God became human, He became A Boy because he wanted to come close to us.
He approaches the world he loves the way we touch a newborn.
God will never become inhumane, even if we become godless.
This is the real Christmas - the story of A Boy born for all of us.
The angels announces Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
God’s salvation is for all the whole cosmos, and so just as shepherds represent the poor and lowly, and the magi represent the nations, the ox and donkey represent the creatures of the earth.
This gift is for anyone and everyone.
But that brings us back to the Ox and the Donkey you see we can all have a lovely time at Christmas, we can enjoy the imagery on the Christmas cards and the familiarity of the carols, but if we are to step beyond this then we have to recognise the master.
Will we draw near and offer our love to the one who is God’s love made flesh?
Will our familiarity with the nativity story, give way to a new perception of the Lord of shepherd and maiden, of carpenter and prince, of ox and donkey, of the one born king of angels and king of all creation?
APPEAL if right
I know I have done wrong in my life and I thank you that Jesus paid for my sin on the cross and rose from the dead to show His power over sin and death.
Jesus, please be the centre of my life.
I welcome you personally as Lord and Savior of my life.
I ask you, Holy Spirit, to fill me and empower me to live as a child of God.
Help me to know that I am forgiven and help me to live for you each and every day.
I thank you that you love me and have invited me into a relationship with you.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, you were born into a sinful, restless world looking for answers and desperate for peace.
Our world today may not look like that of ancient Bethlehem, but it is an equally broken place filled with anxious hearts eager to discover purpose and lasting hope.
We are so thankful that you demonstrate over and over that your heart’s desire is to connect with your creation, offering authentic joy, peace and love to all that call on your great name.
This Advent season, may our world see your son’s birth as an olive branch of peace.