The story of the birth of Jesus, the baby destined to be the Savior of the world, is one of the key stories that has nurtured hope and faith for me throughout my life. However, the “Christmas story” is really made up of many smaller stories – some from scripture and some from oral tradition but all of them important and meaningful.
Before that starry night in Bethlehem, we learn about Gabriel, God’s own angel messenger. We learn about Mary, the young woman chosen by God to give birth to Jesus. We read about Mary’s cousins, Elizabeth and Zechariah, who offer guidance to her during this most unique of all pregnancies. We meet her betrothed, Joseph, who overcomes his hesitation, enters into marriage with Mary and gets the holy family to Bethlehem – right on time.
We also learn the story of a forced journey to Bethlehem from Nazareth – and while the donkey for Mary to ride on isn’t mentioned, we wonder how she would have made the journey and so the donkey becomes a part of our story. In Bethlehem, the lack of room means that Mary gives birth in a stable – the family is not turned away completely, but things are not exactly made much easier for them, either.
We read about the shepherds who lived outside on the hills all the time with their sheep. In a surprising twist in the narrative, they are the ones who are chosen for an exclusive message from the heavenly host, announcing the birth of the Christ child.
Finally, we learn about the Magi from faraway lands, looking for the tiny village with the big name – Bethlehem. They turn up like a bunch of uncles from out of state that nobody knows very well, with their mysterious description of an uncharted star. Their generosity and determination to worship the newborn King is matched by their courage and willingness to deceive the most villainous character in the story – the wicked King Herod, who is quite willing to slay a generation to hold on to his own power.
These are the stories that help fill out the larger narrative of the coming of grace into our world and God’s love that inspires our most heartfelt worship and praise.
Today, I invite you to enter into these Christmas stories by imagining what you would have thought, said or did if you were one of the many characters – or wonder how they would have responded to the challenges we face.
And, going one step further, we can also reflect on OUR story – that is, we can imagine how the people who come to us seeking physical, mental and spiritual care would like to be treated and how we can open our hearts to serve them in a way that truly extends God’s care into the world and becomes another chapter in our shared history together.