Stories we associate with Christmas are found in the first two chapters of the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The following meditations are my thoughts on these familiar passages this year, shared at Carols and Candlelight, 2014.
Lesson 1: Luke 1 – Luke starts off with an angel appearing to Zachariah, a priest who had the prestigious duty involving the holy of holies. He was not told his child would be the Messiah, only the fore-runner of the Messiah. Zechariah did not believe it. In contrast, a young peasant – a girl! – demonstrates a greater faith and receives a higher favor from God. She will give birth to the Messiah, the Son of God. The spirit of the poor and lowly, the oppressed is more open to the spirit messenger than is the spirit of the educated, pedigreed and privileged priest. I find it true today that one will more likely find compassionate care-givers among the poor than among the privileged. Alas, I also admit that I am more willing to listen to the well-educated and wealthy than I am to listen to the poor and oppressed.
Lesson 2: Matthew 1:18-25
Joseph is described as a righteous man. Normally that means he is a rules follower, a stickler for the law. But he is questioning that. How can he keep the law and still claim to love as his religion teaches? He resolves to put her away quietly. That would be merciful, according to the legalistic demands of his tradition. But the dream is a spiritual enlightenment for him. To reject this woman he loves would not produce any good. If he accepts the situation as it is, and loves rather than judges, good can come from it.
How often do we see “righteous” people rejecting someone because they fail to meet expectations? Far better to live with the idea of Emmanuel – God is with us. Greater good will come when we take people as they are, even in their failings, and continue to love them. Condemning and rejecting people in the name of moral purity does not allow good things to develop.
Lesson 3: Luke 2:1-5
If Luke was trying to precisely date the birth of Jesus, he missed it. In fact, the factors he lines up don’t jibe and make scholars question every claim of historical accuracy for Luke’s writing. So why did Luke even try to make it appear historical? Was aligning a census with the reign of Augustus and the governorship of Quirinius really important? Or was it to contrast the present earthly rule with the more royal nature of the child to be born?
Today many are renewing an interest in genealogy. We want to know who our ancestors were. Wouldn’t it be neat if we, like Joseph or Mary, had the blood of ancient kings flowing through us? But why do we need that? What does it matter that we share some DNA with some royalty? Can’t we still be children of God? Can’t we still act nobly? Do we not still have the power to create a more just world?
Lesson 4: Luke 2:6-7
Isn’t it typical government planning? Tell everyone to go to their place of origin and then have no infrastructure that will handle the crowds! Some things haven’t improved very much. So the situation deteriorates for Mary and Joseph and now the baby Jesus, but their status as people who are loved by God and loving to one another hasn’t changed. This is still true today for all who are poor and homeless. Their social status should never be confused with their status as people capable of loving and being loved.
Lesson 5: Luke 2:8-12
If we were out in a field at night and a bright light suddenly showed around us, we would probably thinking, UFO! Alien abduction! Whip out your cell phone and take a picture. But we would still be terrified. So we will cut these shepherds some slack and just listen to the message that is delivered. A child is born – big deal! No one they knew. But this is a Savior, the promised Messiah, the LORD! That gets our attention. And he is wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. What? This child was probably not given proper pre-natal care, and being born into poverty, what chance did he have or really becoming someone important? The value we place on someone is often prejudiced by the expectations we have even before we meet them. If we look for the poor and outcast, and fail to look for saviors and world-changing powers, we will miss the worth of others time after time.
The world is changed by those who defy the best social theories and make a mockery of statistical probabilities. This child certainly changed the world. I wonder if part of it was because he knew he was born to the shepherds, not just to Mary and Joseph. He understood himself to be a part of the world, not a self-seeking consumer of it.
Were you and I born to just our family? Are we not also born to the world – the shepherds and the angels? Are we not born to change the world in some way also?
Lesson 6: Luke 2:13-14
If a multitude of the heavenly hosts appear together, this is an event that is of consequence to more than just one people, more than just one nation. This is the praise of the universe that Luke is portraying in this story. God in the highest is not just a God of the Hebrew people. The peace is not just for one nation. The way to God in the life of Jesus crosses all human boundaries. We cannot just pray for peace through victory over our enemies, we pray for a peace where enemies are never created in the first place. We sing praise to God in the highest, not just the God in our egos, in our theological boxes or faith traditions. Let the message of Christmas be for everyone.
Lesson 7: Luke 2:15-20
Respond to the Christmas story as you will, but I hope you will come to see, (find a place where this story of God’s love for this world is still lived out) go to share the message (let others know of the love you have received when you find such a place) and, with Mary, keep all this forever in your heart (reflect always on the fact that you are loved).