Christians like me sometimes complain that our society no longer remembers “the true meaning of Christmas”. We regret that Christmas cards are more likely to feature snowmen or Father Christmas rather than the “traditional nativity scene”. Picture that nativity scene now as you read this. There in your mind’s eye you can
see a wooden stable. Mary and Joseph are in the middle (conveniently identified with halos so that you know who they are). They gaze at baby Jesus in a manger of pristine hay or straw. To their left are some shepherds with neatly trimmed beards. To their right are the wise men, usually three of them. Above them all, hovering inexplicably at a scale altitude of about 12 feet, is a star. If this was the scene that was featured on all our Christmas cards, we Christians would be happy! Unfortunately this cosy, familiar image is about as near to the Christmas story of the bible as Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.
There are four accounts of Jesus’ life in the bible. They are named after Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Of these only two of them, Matthew and Luke, tell the story that sounds something like the story that we are familiar with. Remember, Matthew and Luke are religious insiders who are inspired by God to write their accounts to convince all of us that the birth of the baby at the centre of the story is of ultimate significance for every man, woman and child in every place and every time. This is the story they tell.
Firstly, they set their stall out by making it clear that the question of Jesus’ parentage scandalised their local community. Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s point of view and Luke tells it from Mary’s point of view. Far from being people of influence or of noble birth, Mary and Joseph are a couple of nobodies who are compelled by the so-called real power of the time to travel a long distance. There is no room in any of the guest rooms in the town so with labour underway, they find shelter in a cow shed. The baby is born and placed in the animal feeding trough. Who witnessed this amazing event?
Luke is writing to a wealthy, educated man, yet Luke tells us that amongst the first to be invited were poor, uneducated shepherds. Matthew, writing to a community of religious insiders tells us that amongst the first visitors were “magi from the east”. These magi (the word from which we get our word “Magic”) were not God-squad types, they were most probably astrologers from the area that is now modern-day Iran. God it seemed had reached out beyond the traditional faith community to those with a different religion or none.
Matthew concludes the story by telling us that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were forced to flee persecution and seek asylum in a foreign land.
The story claims that at the centre of this messy story that tells the truth about my life and yours; God gives himself to us. You are invited to join us at any of our services this Christmas. You are invited, not because we in the churches have a story to share with you; but rather because this story belongs to all of us. It a story of truth speaking to power. It is a story of radical inclusion that calls time on the barriers of wealth, race and religion in our community. It is a story that dares to believe that we belong to each other and that each one of us, in all of our wondrous diversity, is of infinite worth and value. You are invited, not by an establishment or institution; you are invited by choirs of angels!
May we all know God’s presence, peace and love this Christmas.
Andrew M Emison
Minister, Frodsham Methodist Church
Written by the Minister & Members