We were fortunate enough to have family with us this Christmas, and one of the things that we did was to watch an older Christmas movie. It had many things, the North Pole, Santa Claus, reindeer, elves and the Christmas Spirit, but, unfortunately, the one thing that it was missing was the Christ in Christmas. In the movie there was one reference to faith, a reference to having faith in things not seen, but left unseen, but then they explained that they were speaking of faith in Santa Claus.
I wanted to learn how the readings for Christmas would be more understandable in the eyes of a 21st Century person. I found it necessary to go to “old school” methods of learning so I went to the standby of all investigative persons and that is the “who, what, where, when and why” approach, occasionally with an added “how” from a journalistic viewpoint. Using the reading from the Gospel according to Luke (Luke 2: 1-20) as a beginning point, I began my investigation.
“Who” was involved within the reading (Luke 2: 1-20) were Mary, a young woman most likely aged between 12 and 16, and Joseph her husband. Both Mary and Joseph were following both the Lord, in that they were following His direction for the birth of the Messiah, and the secular authorities, by traveling to Bethlehem to register for the census. It is unlikely that at that time they knew how they were fulfilling prophecy in matters dealing with the virgin birth, the town of Bethlehem for the birthplace of Jesus or that people over time would remember and cherish their journey.
The journey would be dangerous, difficult and would result in their being placed in a stable area for the birth of their son. What Mary would remember more than the difficulties were the shepherds tending their flocks by night who were approached by an angel announcing, as would occur in a royal proclamation, the birth of a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. This would be confirmed for the shepherds by their finding a baby wrapped in cloths in a manger in Bethlehem. The Lord had made known all this to the shepherds. And so we find that the “who” may be identified as Mary and Joseph, an angel, shepherds and the Lord God. The “what” is the birth of the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord in Bethlehem in fulfillment of prophecy, the announcement of the angel to the shepherds, and the shepherds confirming what the angel said and then going forth to proclaim all that they had seen and heard.
The “where” has been described as in a stable, most likely what we would describe as a cave where the animals were living, however the important part was that it was in the City of David called Bethlehem. Jesus stated in John 6: 35, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall not thirst.” It should not come as a surprise that the translation of Bethlehem is bet (house or home of) lechem (bread) as we continue to ponder our questions. The “when” may be fairly easily determined since King Herod died in 4 BC, and therefore it is highly likely that Jesus was born somewhere in the vicinity of 6 BC to 4 BC in Bethlehem, Israel, which was a conquered country at the time, totally under the control and influence of Rome. The majority of the Israeli people detested Rome and its influence, although some who benefitted from the situation were content with the status quo.
A more difficult question would be to ask the final “w” question, “why.” There can only be one answer, and that is to quote from the Gospel according to John. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3: 16-17)
This brings me back full circle to the beginning, where I mentioned that sometimes “how” is added to the question equation, and how the movie that we watched spoke of faith. We can’t answer the question of how God made all this happen to fulfill all prophecy and so that we people might be inheritors of the eternal Kingdom, it must be done by faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11: 1) Thanks be to God for His Amazing Grace for us, and may we all remember that it is Christ that we celebrate at Christmas.
Rev. Bain White of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church/Lutheran Church of Grace.