With the world currently experiencing exhausting turmoil and chaos, I was reflecting on the challenges faced by many new young parents having children without family around them as covid-19 has separated families and caused much hardship and millions of deaths. So many major family events have occurred over the last couple of years without the usual rites of passage, and all the ceremonies, celebrations and grieving with well-known rituals for new births, marriages and deaths of loved ones, have been upended to keep us safe. Nothing seems the same.
The increasing violence in the world has also tipped many into being refugees fleeing war, or discrimination, climate change and poverty. Leaders encourage us to turn everyone who is different into the suspicious stranger, the enemy waiting to strike, the one to mistrust and reject. Depending on which group and culture we belong will determine whether we believe what we hear or see as we filter out what we consider rubbish. Much like it was 2,000 years ago. Everything seems the same.
So, as I approach the much-loved and well-known story of Jesus’ birth, I wonder what it would be like for Mary and Joseph today, is it the same or different?
A young woman finding herself pregnant without a reasonable explanation. Joseph encouraged to walk away from the engagement by his own culture’s standards of morality. This part of the story is familiar, not much has changed in the last 2,000 years. A young woman blamed for getting herself pregnant, the father noticeably absent. Would you really believe her story?
Then God upends everything. Which is what God always does. The ‘unexpected’ meeting the ‘improbable’ and the new creation starts without our permission or even recognition. That hasn’t changed!
Let me start again. It is Mary who has enabled God’s plans to take place. God asked a young, powerless woman to change the world by working with God in this new creation. God asked a steadfast, faithful man to trust God and trust the young woman. God used an angel, a dream, a star and a young woman from a backwater in the Roman Empire to change the course of history. God used the stories of God’s covenant with God’s chosen people, together with the prophets foretelling the coming of a Messiah, and finally, God worked through faith, love and trust in turning the world on its head and bringing into view God’s new creation. How utterly mad, unlikely and unreasonable is this. How awesome is this! This bit is different.
Then the Roman Empire intervenes and takes this small nuclear family away from everything familiar because of the importance of making sure everyone is taxed, (some things don’t change) and in the middle of this upheaval, a baby boy is born safely with a minimum of fuss. Mary lays her new baby boy, wrapped tightly as we still do today, in a manger, to protect him from the animals who witnessed the new arrival. We don’t know if there was a midwife, or anyone other than Joseph present at the birth with the animals looking on. However it happened, it was far from home and would not have been easy for either of them.
My reflection about Mary and her trust in God, shows me God has always worked and continues to work through us and with us with the circumstances and offerings each of us bring to God wherever and whoever we are, which never seems to make sense.
God waits lovingly for us to acknowledge God and God’s love. God waits patiently and impatiently for each of us to be pregnant with God’s good news and to share it in whatever the circumstances. God is waiting for each of us to say ‘yes’, like Mary and Joseph did in the face of extraordinary contradictions.
God then told the news of the new creation brought into the world with the birth of a baby boy to despised shepherds who lived and worked outside of normal society. They were not respected or admired. To tell the news to this mob was by any measure, ridiculous. Yet the angel says to the shepherds:
Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)
The good news shared with the shepherds remind us King David was also once a shepherd yet this did not stop God from searching him out and Samuel the prophet anointing him king.
We are told repeatedly by Jesus, nothing is impossible with God.
I wonder when you actually sat and thought about this as an idea that might even be true?
And I suspect Mary knew her people’s expectations of the Messiah to be someone with earthly power and might, with royal authority and military capacity to challenge and overthrow the Roman Empire and restore the Jewish nation to its glory. This was always going to be complicated. Instead, her son, God’s Son was going to be a Messiah like no-one had ever imagined before and since. A Messiah speaking about God’s love for all people and living this truth. God’s son being given into the world to show how much God loved humanity. A Messiah without power, might, status, wealth, who was not even Roman. Luke tells us:
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
Once again, God dares us to hear a story of a king, born in insignificant Bethlehem, in a room shared with animals, to ordinary parents away from home and alone. How ridiculous can God’s plans be?
It is in Matthew’s gospel we hear of the visit of the Wise Men who came looking for the baby and went to ask King Herod where he was, as I suspect they wondered if he was born in the palace in royal surroundings. The star ended up instead over a house where they found the small humble family. As Herod learned about the prophecy, the family fled to Egypt to keep Jesus safe from the murderous impulses of their own king, and Mary and Joseph became refugees until it was safe to go home. Would Mary and Joseph have even made it to safety in our world today as refugees with so many doors shut in their faces? Around 90 million people are displaced in the world today and over 34 million are seeking refuge in other countries as we celebrate Christ’s birth.
Would we look for God’s Messiah among the refugees?
Every aspect of this story confronts us and challenges our understanding of being poor, a refugee, of no account, without resources, at the mercy of a powerful Empire sustained by violence and terror.
Yet this story also offers sheer delight and joy as we hear of God’s everlasting loving and caring for all God’s people. This hasn’t changed.
Do not be afraid, (says the angel), for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. (Luke 2:10)
God is to be found in all places among all peoples throughout God’s creation. God is trustworthy and steadfast in God’s love. God’s love makes all things possible. In our chaotic, anxious world, where so many are struggling and despairing such a message of hope seems ridiculous. Yet hope is what God is offering us today, now in all things, in all places alongside you and as your constant companion. In all the world’s madness, you will always be able to find God’s peace and love which passes all understanding.
As Paul writes in Romans 8:31, 38-39
What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
God bless you today as you celebrate God’s wonderful, joyful hope-filled offering and assurance of God’s love for you and me and for the whole world, made flesh in God’s Son to bring us this simple message. Let us truly celebrate together the birth of Jesus.
The Lord be with you.