It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? Everything was supposed to be back to normal by now. ‘It will be over by Christmas’ they said, and that was nearly two years ago. Instead, here we are. Still masked. Still distanced. Still worrying. Many of us are again spending Christmas separated from family and friends. The new wave of the coronavirus has again upended plans and put many on edge. The past year has been tough and now the next few months aren’t looking much better. The sense of discomfort and disruption that many of us are currently experiencing is not what we had hoped for this Christmas but maybe, just maybe, this discomfort offers us a new window onto the familiar story of the Nativity.
When Mary encountered the angel Gabriel, I wonder whether she envisioned herself travelling from one side of the country to another, while heavily pregnant. I wonder whether she expected to give birth in a strange place or that she would lay her child in a manger because there was no room at the inn. Then having endured the journey, labored in undesirable surroundings, and settling her child in a feeding trough, I wondered whether Mary expected her first visitors to be a group of shepherds. You have to wonder, was it supposed to be like this? …
Was this how the creator of the universe envisioned becoming part of creation. Is this what God had planned from all eternity? Is this really how God decided to become human? Well, yes, yes, yes.
In reflecting on the surprising circumstances of the Nativity, Theodotous of Ancyra, a fourth century bishop, suggested that there might be some reason in the absurdity of it all. He suggests that if Jesus had been born to someone of high rank or amidst luxury then we might have thought his transformative power was because of his wealth or political influence. So, by choosing simplicity and poverty, we can know that it was only because of his divinity that Jesus is able to transform the world. In the infant Jesus, God entered into our world among ordinary folk. God entered our world almost unnoticed with nothing but the protection of a human mother. The reason that God slipped quietly into history was so that all might come to him. Being poor and vulnerable as he was, no one was prevented from coming to Jesus because of their lack of wealth or political influence. Rather, Jesus’ lack of worldly goods meant that he is approachable by all: shepherds, wisemen, fishermen, tax collectors, Roman centurions, you and me. The good news of the incarnation is that God the Son came into the world with no thing so that no one would be lost.
By becoming human through Mary and being born in Bethlehem, God did not remain distant from us. Instead, God chose to become human so that we might encounter him in the midst of the ordinary. In Jesus, God is not limited to the heavens or the hallowed places of this world. Rather, he walked among us embodying a new reality in the midst of the old. As C. S. Lewis writes: ‘Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.’
In entering into our world, God encounters as we are so that we might become how God intended us to be. The sense that the world is not as God intended it becomes clear in moments of crisis like those, we currently find ourselves. In our experiences of discomfort and disruption, we can find ourselves longing for a different reality: a world in which there is no more illness, conflict, injustice, and inequality. It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it? In Jesus, we hear God’s response, ‘no’, but in Jesus we also hear God’s ‘yes’ to the world as it will become: a world in which the lowly are lifted up and the poor exalted; a world in which all may experience the fullness of life. Throughout his life, Jesus embodied the new reality that was first proclaimed to the shepherds by the angels: the Messiah has been born, come and see.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to participate in God’s rescue plan by disrupting the ways of the world by witnessing to the new reality that God is bringing into being through Christ. Our world is not as God intended it but the good news of Christmas is that God refuses to leave us this way. For in Christ, God becomes human so that we might be drawn into the fullness of life that God intended for us. It wasn’t meant to be like this but because God became human, we can live in the knowledge that the evils of this world do not have the final word. So, 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.