The Sense of Christmas– Part Three

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The Christmas story, as we now celebrate it, is a winter’s tale. Never mind Luke’s mentioning that shepherds were out in the fields watching their flocks by night, rather than huddled in a cave, which suggests an event sometime other than winter. Never mind that people didn’t tend to ‘travel from afar’ during the winter season of the year (and yet we are told the wise men undertook such a journey). Never mind that usually the census and levying of taxes would come after the New Year in the Julian calendar. Somehow, the Christmas story became a winter’s tale. And as such it became a tale about indoor feasting and celebrations, not outdoor ones. It became a tale about whole families and families that are made whole by family reunions. But actually the real sense of Christmas is about a potential family scandal. About a good man resolving to divorce his wife quietly. And about Mary, in quiet desperation yet in trembling faith, agreeing to the bargain with the angel, and putting her very betrothal at risk. This sounds more like an episode from the Good Wife, than from the Sound of Music.

In other words, we have sanitized, domesticated, and reoriented the story. The story is about a kind of divine intervention that interrupts all our normal ‘holiday’ plans, all our normal ‘marital’ plans, and calls us to something that we, in the person of Mary, never dreamed of, and could hardly imagine! It involves an uncomfortable call, a call to move well beyond Mary’s comfort zone, and take a risk for the sake of the salvation of God’s people, and, in due course, of others. One is led to wonder—- What if we had been in Mary’s shoes? Would we have assumed the mother load? Would we have borne the burden as Mary did, the potential scandal, the possibility of stoning, the malicious gossip about infidelity? And then to be told that if all that was not gut-wrenching enough, her son was destined to die in hideous fashion prematurely? No, this is not a nice little winter’s tale. A nice Christmas bedtime story.

I was once teaching the Christmas story during the season in Durham England at Elvet Methodist. A bright young British girl of about 6, looked at me after I read the story and said ‘Let me see if I’ve got this: if God is Jesus’ father, and Mary is Jesus’ mother, are God and Mary married? And if not, is Jesus illegitimate?’ Out of the mouths of babes!! It was a better question than I usually get from my seminary students. She had quite rightly sensed the potential scandal in the story and wondered how the story could be set to right. We ought to still be pondering that question, and what this story tells us about how God acts in our midst, stretching us well beyond all our comfort zones, normal expectations, hopes, and even fears.

MOTHER LOAD

From the very beginning
The burden was clear
Sometimes bearable
Sometimes severe

Ate from the apple
Shared it with him
Disobeyed the order
Indulged the whim.

What was the outcome?
The fruit of the act?
She ‘knew’ good and evil?
She experienced it in fact?

Did the earth creature join her?
Did he crumble into dust?
Did he die in an instant?
Or just tumble into lust?

To love and to cherish
Becomes ‘desire and dominate’
Objectify the ‘other’
So you can subjugate.

Suddenly self conscious
Instantly aware
There are no coverings
Only nakedness there.

Hiding in the garden,
The creature in shame
Running from her Maker
Like some kind of game.

Passing the blame on
From God to the wife,
From the wife to the snake
‘The’ creator of strife.

Banished from the garden,
But clothed by their God
Not allowed to live forever
Find a living from the sod

Pain in her labor
Shortness of breath
The mother of all living
Gives birth near to death

And would she be able
To raise Cain at all?
Or will her next offspring
Be first to fall?

And how to redeem this?
Set the process in reverse
Put a stop to the death toll
Undoing the curse?

II

From the very beginning
The burden was clear
“Be it unto me as you said,
The Lord’s servant is here.”

A virginal conception
Had a child without a man
Which no one expected
And few would understand.

She received a word of warning
A sword would pierce her soul
But the death of her first born
Would make the race whole.

There beneath a crooked tree
Stood that woman and a man
Neither disobeyed the orders
Each accepting the plan.

Then He rose in the garden
Reopened its gate
To the tree for the living
To the Adam without mate.

And there in the Scriptures
Was a promise true and sure
“She’ll be saved through the childbearing”
That Mary did endure.

The story revisited
The human tale revised
Motherlode now delivered
Curse reversed before our eyes.