There’s no doubt about it, the Nativity story is a great yarn. In the hands of even a poor story teller it quickly takes on a life of its own as it’s glorious cast assemble. It starts with an angel. Forget girls in tinsel halos prancing about a stage, this is the mighty Gabriel revealed in all his fearsome glory. Before him all are awestruck and afraid. He comes bearing a message from one before whom even he pales into nothing, the Lord Almighty, but this is a message not of judgement or condemnation but hope.
The lead parts and recipients of his message are the couple Mary and Joseph. Mary, a young woman with an open future ahead of her, Joseph, her fiancé, loyal and righteous. To each Gabriel comes with the same story; Mary is to have a child, God’s Son, the promised and long awaited Messiah to whom Scripture pointed. Every Advent I am struck again by their acceptance of what is happening, Mary’s joy at the news and Joseph’s willingness to keep her as his wife despite the obvious bump… Would I have been so accepting? No doubt the majesty of Gabriel helped.
Then we have the donkey (absent in the Bible but we can’t help but including him) and the laborious ride into Bethlehem. I imagine journeys are never that comfortable at nine months gone, but on a such a stubborn stead? Decidedly bumpy…
On arrival the innkeepers in turn announce that they’re full, “No room! No room! No room!” (hints perhaps of what was to come) but one takes pity (or perhaps has an entrepreneur’s eye for squeezing out a bonus profit) and rents out the room round the back where the animals are kept. And so finally we come to the most famous birth of them all; the birth of Jesus the Christ. No much is said of the process, perhaps out of respect to Marry and her son, he simply arrives, God himself born through the anguish and joy of childbirth.
Before we know it an assembly develops around the God-child. Shepherds, Wise men, innkeeper, animals and angels. At the heart of the tableau, Immanuel, God with us, our Saviour born to bring God’s blessing and peace. OK, that might not be exactly how it is described in the Bible, the Wise Men of course come later and no animals are mentioned, but the image is the same – at that moment the whole world revolves around this vulnerable child born in a stable in Bethlehem.
As I said, it’s a cracking story, one that so many of us listen to and are onlookers on as school nativity plays are enacted. The Shepherds were like that once. As the story folds out, they are looking in from outside on the mountain, outsiders living on the edge of society. Gabriel changes all that with his dramatic invitation to come and see, to come on stage and play their part. The same invitation echoes in the skies for us – don’t be onlookers, viewing the story from a distance, come in and make this story your story, play your part, come and see the baby, God’s Son, born to us. This is not some news-story happening to someone else, or some historic event which is done and dusted, but is our story – the same Christ invites us to join him still.
Church Newsletter Article 20.12.15