On December 17 the gospel for the day tells the genealogy of Jesus…a long list of names going back 42 generations. There were all kinds of characters along the way in Jesus’ family history, and some of them weren’t the best people. Nonetheless, they were part of Jesus’ story. And through him part of ours, too.
It seems that whenever people gather, especially at the holidays, it is story time. The telling of stories is part of the fabric of our lives. It shapes who we are in this world of ours. Sometimes the stories may be sad or have hurtful parts in them. Sometimes they are joyful and full of fond memories. When we know a story deeply we have a sense of belonging. We know the characters of the story because we are related to them by blood. Sometimes they are people in our neighborhoods or communities. And sometimes they are the people of our faith lives.
The Christmas story is filled with characters. There is, of course, Mary and Joseph, but also the innkeeper, the shepherds, the Magi, Herod, and the central character—Jesus. Lately I’ve been pondering how each of these characters have shaped the Christmas story for me through the years.
Mary and Joseph first have surprising things happening to them. Mary is visited by an angel and told she is to be the mother of Jesus, the long awaited Savior. She does not know how this can be, but in the end, she says Yes to the angel, to God, making room in her heart for whatever is to come. Joseph is visited by an angel in a dream and assured that it is okay to take Mary as his wife. So, they set off for Bethlehem when most pregnant women would not be traveling. There are no “hotels.com” or “Travelocity” to book a place to stay and the only lodging the innkeeper can offer is a stable. And so, the story continues…Jesus is born in a stable and laid in a lowly manger. The people nearby that night are the shepherds, tending sheep, an essential and needed task.
Another part of the story tells us that sometime after Jesus was born, Magi, following a star, came looking for this Messiah King. Telling Herod about it causes immediate jealousy on his part and so there was danger for Jesus. In the midst of all this chaos in the first Christmas is Jesus…the central character of the story. This is the gift of Christmas…God gave us his Son, Jesus. Could we ever imagine in our wildest dreams that God, the Source of the entire cosmos, and who holds it all together, would love us so much to give us his son, Jesus to become one of us? Because of this great love, this story is now our story! In our story, just like in Jesus’ story, there are unknowns and unexpected happenings. All are part of the story.
Can we make room in the inn of our hearts for Jesus this Christmas and every day? Just like Mary and Joseph whose plans were changed, who knew isolation and danger yet trusted in this Provident God who had led them all along, can we trust the ways of God in our lives? Like the shepherds who, in wonder went in haste to the stable, can we see the wonder of God’s love and actions in and around us? The Magi, following a celestial star, seek its meaning, and discover in whom is the Hope for all. Can we invite Jesus to companion us on our journey to seek deeper meaning, to gain a better understanding of how to use the gifts we have been given? And then there is Herod and his jealousy and insecurities. Here we come face to face with our own humanity, with our flaws and our sinfulness. Can we believe that Jesus, by his Incarnation, brings love, forgiveness and acceptance?
Indeed, the “Word became flesh and made his home among us.” “Today is born the Savior, Emmanuel, God-with-us.” This is the Christmas story. This is our story! How will it shape you?
Barbara McMullen, CDP