The Hope and Question of ChristmasBy
For generations and centuries, the Jewish people had longed and waited for the Messiah. Then in a non-descript town in far less than middle class accommodations, Mary and Joseph experienced the birth of baby Jesus. Shepherds, informed by the angels while out watching their sheep, came to the stable to worship the baby that was wrapped up in baby blankets and placed in a feed trough. It was a tender moment that would impact all of history, but so little was understood on that night.
With the key elements of the plot and characters present in the story, we have a sufficient amount of details to understand the events. But often our romantic nature wants to add in the details. Some begin the story as “the coldest, darkest night in all of Israel….” Perhaps the night described should be a Stephen King-esque setting if only the gospel writers had known how to pen the tale. But it is not essential in order for the hearer to realize the truth of Christmas for the night to have been unique in light and weather. Isn’t a manger and a stable bad enough? Isn’t the birth of the Son of God glorious enough?
There was a clear point to the story and truth of Christmas. On that night, God came to live among us. Emmanuel. The sending of God. The birth of the Savior. This story spoke to the hopes and dreams of the Jewish people that had longed to be freed from Roman rule. The story resonated with the Hebrew cry for help throughout a difficult history. Like salve to their wounds was the hope that peace could come to the earth and dwell among their people. That was the story. It happened.
But something else did not happen that night. A Pauline theology of salvation was not delivered to the people. No explanation was given to the hopeful as to what they needed to do in order to be born again. It was enough for them to believe–believe that their hopes were fulfilled in this infant. To believe that God had been faithful to his promises. Yes the future would be essential to the working out of salvation, but that was to be done over the next 33 years. On the night of Christmas, hope and peace reigned supreme with those who heard and believed that God, continuing to prove Himself faithful, would work out the details and explanations for the salvation of His people as He required.
While the darkest, coldest night is not found in the gospel narratives that I have read, there are other words that are insightful. Some words describing the responses of the characters include: terrified, good news, great joy, favor, amazed, treasured, pondered, glorifying, praising, waiting, marveled, blessed, gave thanks…. Much was made clear at the time of Jesus’ birth. However, much was still unknown.
Recently I posted a video about “Christians trying to convert non-Christians.” This Christmas story, I believe, speaks to that. What the characters knew and understood, they believed. Sometimes simultaneous with and sometimes prior to their belief they also had fear or questions they were pondering. The story of Christmas answered so many questions, yet it raised so many others. Here, in the manger, lies hope and peace. How is that going to work out? If this is the Savior, then what will the story line be?
Like the shepherds, ours is to tell the incredible story of hope and peace. I pray that this may be the beginning of a conversation–the beginning of a relationship. May others see the hope and peace of Christ in us. May they experience what it looks like for us because of Emmanuel. It is my prayer that they will hope and believe in something so much more for their life, their loved ones, their world. It is also my prayer that we will be faithful disciples to walk with them sharing our very lives so that we may enjoy their friendship, so they may know the one, true God.