There are lots of things to like about Christmas - the time with family, the holidays, the gifts, the carols, the lights, and the good food. What I like most is the Christmas story itself. Unfortunately, because most of us have heard the story so many times, it can lose it's impact and meaning, simply due to familiarity. It's like driving to work the same route every day - it is easy to miss things we have never really seen before. In the same way, the Christmas story has been somewhat sanitised and romaticised over the centuries, losing some of its grittiness.
At our Christmas Day meetings we took a fresh look at the old well-known story - it's meaning, it's characters and it's impact. Of the four Gospels we have, Mark begins with Jesus already grown up while John focuses on the pre-existence and incarnation of Christ. Only Matthew and Luke describe the events surrounding the birth of Jesus, each giving two full chapters to the topic, but both from different perspectives.
We took time to understand more deeply the context of the story (one of the worst times to live in Judea) and the experience of the characters. From Zacharias and Elizabeth we can learn not to allow years of disappointment to destroy our hope for the future. From Mary and Joseph we can learn to accept and trust God, even when life takes unexpected turns. From the shepherds and the wise men we learn that God's love reaches to all people - rich and poor, religious and irreligious, the famous and those on the margins of society, Gentile and Jew. From Simeon and Anna we learn that God is faithful to keep his promises, even when there seems to be a long delay.
From King Herod and the slaughter of the innocent baby boys born around that time we learn that we still live in a world marred at times by tragedy and suffering. What a paradox that the very time of joy to the world because the Messiah had come was also a time of deep pain and grief for numbers of families in the area surrounding Bethlehem. We don't like to talk about this too much - but it is the reality of life. [Some churches and groups celebrate the 'feast of the holy innocents' even to this day - see article here]
Of course the hero of the story is Jesus - God in human form. Coming near to us, embracing and experiencing first-hand our suffering, sin and pain ... yet offering us hope, both for the present and the future. Christmas really is good news - because of Christ.
The Christmas story is one of the most amazing stories ever known. It includes a virgin conception (the second most controversial miracle next to the resurrection of Jesus), miraculous dreams, angels, prophetic fulfillment (God is omniscient as well as sovereign, so nothing takes him by surprise) and a guiding star! It is a call to reverence (wonder) and worship. Let's worship Christ this season and marvel with wonder at the still amazing grace of God.