Thousands upon thousands of people will go to church tonight, and that’ll be it for another year. They’ll hear about Mary and a donkey, a star and three kings, shepherds and angels, a stable and a manger, and a baby. And they’ll sing about them, too, mostly without thinking too hard about the lyrics; many with a tear in their eyes remembering happy Christmases past; of joy and laughter with loved ones who are no longer here; of dreams unfulfilled, hopes dashed and innocence lost. They won’t ponder too hard on a star looming over Bethlehem. They’ll think even less about the seismic significance of ‘the gospel’ – a baby called Jesus, the Son of God, who was born…
He existed before, of course: being the Son of God, he was pre-existent with the Father in the beginning. If that makes sense. But in Bethlehem, beneath a star, he became flesh: a divine Sonship by the Spirit of God acting upon Mary; a supernatural procreation which split human history in two. The Messiah, the Christ was sent by God and descended to become a baby, born of Mary: a divine-human person; a God-man who was fully man and fully God. It’s called the Incarnation, but few will grasp the profound drama of that event. It’s just a bit of magic and silliness, really. Even fewer will know of the Old Testament promises of apocalyptic expectation; the stuff of legend. And who, singing about herald angels or the coming of the joyful and triumphant faithful, will bother to wrestle with miraculous conceptions, relinquishing and self-emptying; or the unity of two natures, the fusion of divinity with humanity in mysterious unity?
It’s easier to go to church on Christmas Eve to sing about a star over Bethlehem than it is allow oneself to be confronted week after week by the Jesus who is possessed of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence. The vulnerable baby in a manger lays down his sweet head while the cattle are lowing, and he presents no threat to anyone at all. We can do that particular Jesus once a year very easily. The tinsel helps. But the Jesus who demands a final, personal decision; the Jesus who demands your soul, your life, your all… well, he’s a bit different; a bit more demanding, a bit more unnerving. If you follow that star, it leads to a confession that reaches way beyond a glittery Christmas card. It confronts your denial and doubt. It forces you to face your own false truth and permit entry to the True One who was revealed beneath a star in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago; who descended from heaven to give his life so that man might live for evermore.
Hark, now hear the angels sing, a king was born today.
May the joy and peace of Christmas permeate your hearts and homes at this celebration of the Nativity.