“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. Good news indeed, but you know, the true story of Christmas seems to be overshadowed by some of the classic stories about Christmas such as: “Miracle on 34th Street,” “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Home Alone I, II, and III,” “Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol,” but please don’t forget those wonderful Lifetime Channel Christmas specials.
Most of us remember “A Christmas Carol, the story of Scrooge, the 19th century curmudgeon that received visits from three ghosts on Christmas Eve. In one solitary night his bad attitude and angry spirit was transformed by the experience of new life, changed not only him, but everyone in the town with whom he came in contact. These stories all may seem to compete with the true and original Christmas story of the Birth of Jesus of Nazareth, but I believe these stories re-tell the basic theme of the story of the Incarnation of Jesus; hope, celebration, and new life in the midst of the trials and tribulations of life. The story of God in Christ being born among us is the “Greatest Story Ever Told,” not because of good writing or acting, but because this story is the true story of God’s embodied love for creation.
The stories we see on television this time of year echo the themes of hope and peace. “It’s a Wonderful Life, a tale of a family caught up in the greed of a wealthy spinster, who tried to destroy their family’s beloved Building Savings and Loan. Even so, the family, as a result of the generosity of their neighbors, overcame the evil that beset them, and lived happily ever after. My favorite tale is the Charlie Brown Christmas special in which, Charlie Brown as director of the kid’s Christmas play could not seem to find a decent Christmas tree for the center of the play. When he finally found the last little (nearly dead) tree, Charlie tried to place an ornament on it, and it collapsed, and fell to the ground. As Charlie became distraught and lost hope, Linus stood up among the kids, and re-told the story of the Birth of Jesus. Hearing the true meaning of Christmas re-told, all the kids re-discovered what the true meaning of the holiday meant, and the little tree became a symbol that love and care can overcome adversity. These stories have great meaning for us this time of year, but the one we often miss is the “Greatest Story ever Told.”
This story of Jesus’ birth begins with the account of a young mother’s miraculous conception, her betrothed spouse’s faithfulness and commitment, and the central character, the baby who was born in a manger, an animal feed trough. Imagine for a moment that the ultimate source of creation, God, mysteriously came to us as a child without political or social power and without financial means. God entered time and space as a poor, common, penniless baby. This story is no mere fairy tale, which we share each December. This story is the mysterious narrative of our individual and communal experience of a life-changing, world-changing event that really did happen over 2000 years ago in a small Palestinian village. The details of this story are recorded in scripture as evidence of the event, but the mystery and truths of the story are found in the life-changing impact it has had on billions of people throughout the centuries. The truth of the Incarnation is both historical and mysterious.
With today’s technology, we can access facts, figures, data, and commentary on any subject. If you wish to learn the origins the Christmas tree, not only can we read about the historical Celtic practice of bringing greenery into the home in winter, we can research, which retailers have Christmas trees at the best prices. Just go to Google and type in angels and you can discover the history, origins, names and details about angelic messengers. Type in Caesar, and you can learn all there is about the historical character of Caesar Augustus the ruler who at the birth of Jesus, declared a census of the known world . Do you want to know about how shepherds tended their sheep in ancient fields? Just go online and do a search. Even though at the touch of a finger, we can find research all the characters in the story of Jesus’ birth, the truth found in the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ cannot be found in a searchable database. So, where do we search for mystery, ambiguity, and paradox?
Some folks are a bit skeptical about mystery, but even scientists must rely on it to explain some of the new discoveries of the vast and unexplored cosmos. Scientists often hypothesize about the origins of the universe, because science has yet to lift the veil on all that is unknown. For example, we cannot measure, photograph, or even perceive “Dark Matter” but physicists are developing theories and ideas about how “Dark Matter” exists, and science claims that this mysterious substance makes up much of the universe. Even when it comes to science, there is still mystery.
The mysterious Good News the angels proclaimed on that fateful night over 2000 years ago, was this, “somehow, in some mysterious way, God the source of all, was no longer outside of time and space, no longer, somewhere other than here. God was and is now among us as one with us, not coming in power, but coming among us as a vulnerable baby.” The good news of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem is that we no longer have anything to fear; for you see—this story brings great joy for all the people (not just some). “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
God the Creator, who brought all we see, touch, smell, feel, and hear into being; and those things mysteriously outside our five senses and in ways we cannot fully fathom, came to be with us through a real, historical event. God was and is among us in Christ. That is good news. That is a story to be told. That is the greatest story ever told; God with us as a child in a manger over 2000 years ago. God dwelling in our hearts today. That is good news. May God bless you and your families on this night, this very special night on which, we celebrate the mystery of God’s tidings of great joy for all people.