Sunday Morning Musings: Through many Christian homes the Christmas story is being told once again. It is always a special treat for me to hear the many versions that have been created over the years. Even from the very beginning of the story the telling and re-telling gives its own twist to events. Some would even go so far as to say that it all is nothing more than a made-up story. There is no historical truth to any of it. Even if that fact was true, it does not prevent me from realizing that historicity is not the point of the story at all. Whether or not the story is true, I am not prevented from finding in the story so much worth celebrating.
The gospel according to Mark tells nothing of the Christmas story at all. And over the centuries there has been a “mashing” together of different parts of the story, or stories, which have combined legends creating in all likelihood something much different from writers of the gospels of Luke and Matthew. Again, it is not the even the facts of the story that hold the true meaning of the Christmas story.
Full disclosure tells me that a “virgin” birth is possible (I can’t explain miracles, nor can accept that Mary was perpetually a virgin), but to me it doesn’t affect the meaning of the birth story. The fact we are told by the writer of Matthew’s gospel that the “wise men” or magi visited in a “house” rather than in the stable, does not make the story invalid. The recollections of both Joseph and Mary as they must have spoken about the visits they received from “angels” may have changed with re-telling but again it is not the incident but the meanings that are important.
To me, the story of Christmas is about relationships. Firstly, there is the relationship of God (that is the word I will use) with humans. The Christmas story reminds us of different elements of this relationship. We often do not recognize the presence of God (remember, I do not think of God as a being, rather God just “is”). Mary, and others, were visited by “angels”. Again, using the example of Mary, she did not know what was happening, she didn’t understand what she was told; but neither did she refuse. She accepted the mystery and when she shared this “visit” with others (at least with Elizabeth) she saw a bit more of the picture. As is so often the case, our hindsight is quite good. Mary‘s story is one of relationship. As is Joseph’s story and ours.
The idea of the name “Emmanuel” speaks further of “relationship” when we are told the name means “god with us”. I love the version told by kids from New Zealand that reminds us throughout that “they won’t expect that”. Their story reminds us that our relationship with the divine is always happening but so often we are not expecting it and therefore don’t realize or recognize God’s presence with us at all times. (Again, I don’t believe in a God who causes bad things just so we might be comforted by God.)
Most importantly, the Christmas story invites us to be part of the relationship in that we are called to find the divine in all that we say and do; in all that we meet. Edgar Guest once wrote:
“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.” To me, Guest understood Christmas. It was about re-telling the story but in very practical ways. It was about more than just hearing the story, but living the story, about living in the presence of God; about seeing the divine in the everyday occurrences of life.