There are two perspectives from which we can view the Christmas story. Both are presented in the Bible. From one perspective, we see the greatest, most unexpected, most wonderful miracle of all time– the Almighty God of heaven and earth, Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe, decides to visit planet earth– and he does so as a human being. The Gospel of John speaks most powerfully and eloquently from this perspective of the divine and the miraculous. John chapter one says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. Through Him all things were made. In Him was life, and the light that shines in the darkness. That Word has become flesh and dwelt among us. In Jesus we have seen the glory of God.” And in Luke we read that the angel told Mary that her Son would sit on the throne of David and that his kingdom would last forever. In these places and many more, the Bible makes no mistake about it– this birth would be the focal point of all history. It had been predicted for centuries, and now, it was even more miraculous than ever expected– God himself was in the one born. God himself lay in that manger. That is one perspective on the story.
From the other perspective, this was just another birth to a young couple in a small town– all very ordinary. It was perhaps not completely ordinary. Mary, of course, became pregnant out of wedlock, no doubt to the embarrassment of her parents and the disappointment of Joseph, who knew he was not the father. But that sort of thing happened in those days, too. Mary, and then later, Joseph, were told about the miraculous circumstances of this pregnancy. But to everyone who knew them this was just another unplanned pregnancy and birth. Mary and Joseph probably did not have much success in explaining to the neighbors about the angel’s announcement of a virgin birth.
Behind the scenes there are a few miracles going on, but the Bible goes on with this ordinary perspective to tell of the normal engagement of Mary and Joseph, which would have meant the usual one year waiting period before marriage. It tells of the government decree that a census should be taken, and the inconvenience of Mary and Joseph having to travel all the way to Bethlehem to register. Then there is the frustration of no room in the inn, and the baby being born that very night in the only place they could get– a stable, of all places. From this perspective, it does indeed look like nothing more than day to day life as we know it, just one darned thing after another going wrong. There are no miracles. They can’t even get a place to stay. This is that second perspective, and it is a very different way to see the story.
The same event, and told from these two very different perspectives– one so very ordinary, and in the other, an extraordinary miracle; and BOTH are true.
Once in a while, we see the two perspectives come together. For example, there is a group of plain old shepherds, out doing their ordinary work on an ordinary night. Suddenly, the entire sky was lit up in a very extraordinary way, and a host of heavenly angels were singing “Glory to God in the highest.” Then one of the angels told them to go to Bethlehem to see this baby who is born to be the Savior of the whole world, and when they go, they see the most ordinary of situations. But, says the Gospels, behind the scenes the destiny of the world was being worked out, as the Lord God was entering his creation in person to make all things new and right again.
So we see in the Bible a God who chooses to do his most extra-ordinary work in very ordinary ways. We might wish for something more spectacular– an unmistakable miracle perhaps, even now, for us to see; something that would provide a clear and convincing proof that God is there and loves us. But God prefers to work in and through the ordinary, and call us to faith on that basis. (continued…)
II Corinthians 5:19a — …God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself…
Acts 2:22 — (Peter said), “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”
Luke 2:8-12 — And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus, that we may share in the song of angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the worship of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clean hearts. May the Christmas morning make us happy to be Thy children, and the Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
–Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)