December 24, 2012
You may not read this before the commemoration.
The annual reenactments of the Christmas Story have become cultural; they no longer belong to the religious insiders. Norman Rockwell has joined Matthew and Luke as the purveyors of the image.
Ask anyone for the Cliff Notes version, and they’ll deliver. The main characters – Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, wise men – all get honorable mention. The key scenes – the fields, Bethlehem, the stable – could be captured in crayon by the youngest in the family bunch.
Those treatments of the Birth are historic, and factual… but they miss some of the behind-the-scenes perspectives that are needed to really understand what’s going on, embedded in the Nativity.
Beyond the biographies offered by the Gospel writers, Paul paints a backdrop – and, creates a caption – that brings the iconic still life into eternal clarity. How does Paul describe Christmas?
“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
It happened right on time. Israel had been longing for their messiah to arrive, for hundreds of years. Had you asked any Jew on the street, he would have confirmed that the political savior they were expecting was long overdue. For them – as is often true, for us – what they wanted from heaven was “late.” But God is never late; He’s always right on time – His time.
The Stars of the Story are not obvious. Pageants today cast Mary and Joseph in the lead; Paul has a more informed view. Who are the notables in the narrative? A Threesome: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “God (the Father) sent His Son, born of a woman…” How did that happen? “… what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 1:20), according to the angel. The Trinity are the Stars of Christmas. The only human in the mix isn’t even named – “born of a woman” – by Paul’s account.
A Mission was underway. The birth was a critical step in an eternal strategy. The pinnacle of God’s creation – the human race – was held captive by the god of this world, and the sin that corrupted them. Jesus came to redeem the fallen race; the redemption picture is portrayed like the payment of a ransom to a malicious kidnapper who will stop at nothing to harm the victims – or, their family.
There is an Amazing Conclusion. The crèche at Christmas ends with Wise Men and gifts; there’s no culminating event that brings the story into a consummating conclusion. Not so with Paul’s treatise; he takes us all the way to the last chapter.
The Gospel accounts put Jesus in Mary’s womb, and then in an innkeeper’s stable. Paul’s account puts Jesus in our hearts, and then puts us in a King’s palace. How did Jesus get into Mary’s womb? The Holy Spirit did it, miraculously. How did Jesus get into your heart? The Holy Spirit did it, miraculously. The Story of Christmas hasn’t been fully told until your part has been played…
The Cast Party for the extravaganza is going to be happening one day soon, in heaven. Only family members will be invited: the Trinity, and the sons and daughters of God. You’ve been invited, and a plate has been set at the table with your place card next to it…
They’ll do their best at church with the kiddies from Sunday School, but some of the between-the-lines stuff may not be as clear among the sheep and donkeys as they are in Paul’s retelling.
I’m looking forward to the cast party. I know you are, as well. It may not be long until the curtain drops on the production…
Merry Christmas, friend!