Every year at this season we need to ask afresh ‘What is God saying to us as we again read those familiar birth narratives in the gospels?’
Christians sometimes have fallen for the cultural interpretations of the story of the birth of Jesus. Picture this; the blonde, cute baby Jesus with a placid looking Mary surrounded by obedient sheep and cows in a barn gazing adoringly at the Jesus child, while light emanates from his halo and kind looking shepherds along with three kings bow in worship as a star hangs over the perfect scene……if you are in some countries there must be snow falling gently in the background also. It’s a fairly common image of the birth of Jesus.
Instead what did the scene really look like according to the reading of Scripture? Picture this; a husband who was not sure what he was doing marrying a pregnant woman with a child not his own, a young pregnant woman in a nation that stoned women if they committed adultery, a poor couple with not enough money to take a room for a night in order to give birth, who eventually had to flee to a town with a dodgy reputation so that they could escape the murderous rampage of a maniacal king. God made flesh was born into poverty with a refugee status and an ‘illegitimate child’ tag around him in a land full of political turmoil, tense due to the potential violence which could erupt at any moment. Oh and by the way Jesus was not blond. Instead he would have looked a little more like someone that airport security looks at twice these days as they board a plan to the USA!
There is no problem with interpreting the birth of Jesus as in the first picture, unless we take it seriously, and unless our broader culture begins to think that this is in fact all there is to the Jesus that we follow. There is no problem in fact with celebrating Christmas with a whole load of fun, family, beach, great food, good singing-unless of course we allow that to take our focus off a more realistic reading of the birth narratives.
An honest reading of the story of the birth of Jesus causes us to step out of our comfort zones rather than cling more tightly to them. The narratives are actually a little disturbing rather than comforting. They are a mixture of joy in the midst of violence, good news in the midst of poverty and life framed by a subtle tinge of death. The fact that God chose to come to earth in this way ought to make us think about and marvel on what kind of God is this. And then we must question whether we are following the God as revealed in Scripture or the God as portrayed by our culture.
So what is the narrative of the birth of Jesus as expressed in the Gospels saying to us today? What do you think after reading the birth of Jesus in its actual context? How does it challenge you? Can you allow the narratives to disturb you? How do they give you hope? Have we allowed cultural interpretations of the narratives to cloud a more provocative reading of the story?
How does the predicament of Mary speak into the lives of Indian women today who are faced with a culture that seems to accept sexual violence towards them?
How does the massacre of the innocents recorded in the Gospel of Matthew speak into the recent shootings in Connecticut?
How does the political tension of Palestine 2000 years ago speak into the Syrian civil unrest and indeed the broader unrest of the Middle East today?
How does the profound humility of God expressed through the birth of Jesus challenge our notions of power today?
My prayer is that this Christmas each of us would be challenged afresh by the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus. I pray that we would see again the incredible hope that is offered to us by a God who would humble himself in such a dramatic and unexpected way all in order to connect with us. I do pray that this year we open the door to our hearts experiencing the comfort and disturbance of Christmas afresh again.
*For a very hopeful and creative perspective on the story of the birth of Jesus please watch this 5 min clip.(Link)