Christmas. God bless it. Matthew and Luke have a lot to say about Jesus’ birth. John and Mark leave the topic alone. None of them speak of Christmas. It’s really too bad. I could use some guidance each year. Family Christmas is about food, presents, and reunion. Church Christmas is about traditional hymns, sacraments, and candles. Christ the light has come into the world and will shine until Good Friday. What is Christmas to me? Stories told and retold every year. I want to begin with looking at the first ones.
The traditional Christmas pageant mixes Matthew’s story into Luke’s. The Magi come from the east and join the shepherds. A lot of thought goes into some kind of star shining over the whole scene. And that’s all we get.
Matthew’s story, though, is about Joseph. The betrothed husband of Mary is visited by an angel. Joseph, we read, is a righteous man. He decides to annul his betrothal to Mary who is pregnant with someone else’s child. Matthew tells us Joseph is of the line of David. He is not exactly royalty. But he is a keeper of the commandments. He will not add to Mary’s humiliation. God sends a messenger to tell Joseph something wonderful is taking place in the life of Mary. He should make her his wife.
Joseph is of the kingly line of David. Another man, Herod, is called “King of the Jews.” He is a man who sees threats before they are fully formed. When the Magi appear in Jerusalem, Herod is concerned and wants to find this newborn King. He is planning to destroy him.
Joseph is warned about this and flees with Mary and her son from Herod’s jurisdiction. When they return, Joseph is not warned but decides it is prudent to avoid Herod’s son Archelaus. Matthew’s story is about Joseph protecting the son of Mary
We get a different point of view is Luke. This story centers on Mary. Elizabeth declares her “the mother of my Lord.” Gabriel greets her as a “favored one” of God. Luke tells us about Mary’s inner thoughts about all of these events. She is both perplexed and joyful. Her song is one of hope. But Simeon tells her a sword will pierce her soul.
Luke tells us about choirs of angels and shepherds visiting. Herod is never considered. Magi from the east do not visit. Neither Luke nor Matthew ever mention animals. We interpolate their presence. I wish our traditional manger scenes showed some of the female cousins who would have helped Mary through giving birth. Luke’s story is bright, hopeful, and happy.
Matthew or Luke
Being a pastor during Advent and Christmas is never easy. Church members are either in Matthew or Luke mode. In many cases, they are confused because they are experiencing both. We are in between as well. Are we experiencing sadness or joy? Is there hope or just wanting to get it over with? I have been all over the map with these feelings over the years.
This year I am not trying to experience anything. The theme of Christmas for me this year is light. It is the only consistent theme in Matthew and Luke. “We have seen his star in the east,” the Magi say. “Then an angel of the Lord stood before (the shepherds) and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” If the light terrified me at first, it would be worth it. I want to know that Light.
Legend has it St. Francis invented the creche – the manger scene we use for the Nativity. He did it to demonstrate the poverty into which Jesus was born. It is a lesson telling us where we may begin looking for light. We may look among the destitute. Or maybe we should look among those who are working during the holiday. Then again the light may just find us when we are not looking. Still, that is what I want. Let me be as serious as Joseph and as joyful as Mary. Let me be as bewildered and perplexed. I want to trust that love will prevail.