The scenes of the Nativity Play, as written in Matthew 1 & 2, and Luke 2 certainly contain enough human drama for several episodes of the “Old and the Dutiful”, or “Daze of our Lies”, or whatever. The unexpected pregnancy, Joseph the jilted husband-to-be; political intrigue and expediency - to the point of mass murder; taxes and refugees.
In the Gospel of Matthew we have the visit of the Wise Men, or Magi-cians, and the three gifts. (Where are the “We three Kings of Orion Tar”?) This followed by the “Flight to Egypt” to escape Herod’s wrath and the “Murder of the Innocents”. And, years later, the Return to the Land of Israel - albeit to dusty Nazareth – from whence, obscurely, the child Emmanuel (God with us) gets the unique label of ‘Nazarene’.
The Gospel of Luke broadens the scope: the Story is prefaced by bringing in Zechariah and Elizabeth - Mary’s relative and the mother of John Baptist. Then come the Shepherd in the fields abiding - and I BET they DID wash their socks by night!
In what seems to me a chronological inconsistency with Matthew’s version, Luke records that “on the eighth day” (Luke 2.21) Jesus is circumcised and presented (dedicated/consecrated) to God at the Jerusalem Temple according to the ancient Levitical law. In good old African style where “it takes a whole village to raise a child” there is also Madala (Old Man) Simeon, and Gogo (Old Lady) Anna the prophetess.
Throughout all this “snot en trane” (the very graphic Afrikaans for “nasal mucous and salty tears) this shocking human drama is thoroughly grounded in the Presence of the Holy Spirit - Whom John V Taylor has called The Go-Between God
I find it awesome that rather like the Genesis creation myth the Nativity Story, and its enduring patchwork of traditions, comes from two separate accounts, with two unique viewpoints and theological emphases, and at times contradictory, geography and chronology that are moulded around the myth with imaginative and profound poetic licence.
So what if December 24th is a date more consistence with the celebration of the northern Winter Solstice, and the looking forward in hope to new life and ‘more light’ (Please, God)? So what if the traditional evergreen ‘Christmas Tree’ is a symbol of Life that transcends the season hot/cold, dry/wet, reaping/sowing, living/dying nature of earthly life?
So what if Thomas Nast caricaturised 4th century Christian bishop Nicholas of Myra (famous for his generous gifts to the poor) into a jolly fat old portly white man in a red suit?
Sadly, the 1930’s Coca-Cola ® hijacking of Santa Claus (St Nicholas) has transmogrophied this story of grace and generosity into a miserable money grubbing marketing “jingle bells”? Such an example of self-giving has become a commercially-centred bandwagon that was leaped upon with such gusto that the story of self-giving grace has degenerated into all-consuming, sentimentalistic, moralistic, materialistic Father Christmas “who knows when you’ve been bad or good”? (Even within the Christian Church!)
The Good News of “God came down at Christmas” (of Absolute Being expressed/revealed in particular beings in time and space) has to “arrive’ some-where and some-when – even if that time and place have not been, and cannot be, discovered absolutely and inerrantly. We live amid ‘uncertaintly’, in a world of history and geography - never mind physics, astronomy and the earthly realities of economic power politics and privilege.
How awesome then, that in all this muck and filth of human greed, fear and injustice, of collusion and corruption in both business and politics then and now, that the Light of the World (John 1:3 -7) – however dimly reflected and inconsistently portrayed in myth and mystery - still shines on, often unnamed and as yet unrealized, in the hearts and lives of so many ordinary people.
John MacQuarrie writes: “…the words of Jesus are the words of the Logos, not just of the individual human being, Jesus of Nazareth. Those of us who are Christians believe that we have heard (that Word or Logos) loud and clear in Jesus Christ and that we need not look beyond him. But we do not deny that the Word finds expression in other traditions, and, indeed, in the whole creation" (Jesus Christ in Modern Thought London: SCM, 1990 p. 422).
Truth comes to us all in Story form. Matthew and Luke portray the Nativity in the colourful, literary style of romantic novel. My paraphrase of John 1:14 below, is the simplest, if more stark, form for me to speak of the Christ who “plays in ten thousand places; lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his, to the Father, through the features of (men’s) faces.”
From the Beginning the Word (Logos/Principle) is. The Logos/Word is God. In the Logos/God is life and light.
Today I celebrate, in the Christmas Story, the Word/Logos become human in Jesus, and living among us. I have seen his glory, and grace and truth, in the self-giving love, that led him to the Cross.
May you have a truly grace-filled day of generous giving