I come to share with you outrageous stories. Stories which turn the world upside down!
To help me, I will use quite a few famous paintings, for this story has been represented so many times by so many artists. No one was around to take photographs, no one was even there to sketch it at the time, but these events, so momentous, so important were passed on from generation to generation, carefully so no detail was missed, so we would know the truth which was seen, and heard and touched by those who were there. Artists have taken these great stories and made great art out of it. Come with me, on a journey through 2000 years of wonderful art...
Long, long ago, the Prophet Isaiah was able to understand that God wanted to sort out this world. No matter what God did, or said, we just couldn’t get it: murder, injustice, oppression, cheating – mankind just couldn’t hold onto the love that God want to give us. So many hundreds of years before all this happened, holy people like the prophet Isaiah, the prophet Zephaniah, the prophet Amos foretold of God stepping into this world to show us.Isaiah said “The people that walked in darkness will see a great light... And God will be with us... He will come to bring freedom, justice, love and mercy. He will be wounded for us, and by those wounds he suffers, he will heal us, and make us right with God...”God will step into this world – a most outrageous idea! God will come as one of us, as a Son of Man, and he will be given the title: MESSIAH
MESSIAH! The chosen one of God.Annointed. Made special. God had known all along how this most outrageous idea was going to happen, in ways that we just wouldn’t expect. You see, his ways are not our ways, and whereas the people of Israel expected a great military leader, a king, a warrior, God knew that the right way to become one flesh with us was to come as a small, vulnerable child: weak, defenseless and poor.
So, when the time is right. Right in God’s time, not ours, not when we want, but when He knows the time has come, a messenger of God is sent to a young girl in a small town in Galilee.Her name was Mary and we now call her “Our Blessed Lady Mary”I bet you didn’t realise that Mary was probably about 12 years old when God’s messenger was sent to her...
The angel – God’s Messenger – appears suddenly, disturbing Our Lady at her prayers
We don’t really know what an Angel looks like, and they don’t always have wings and a halo
But when they appear, it must be a bit scary...
The angel spoke in words that both alarmed and calmed Our Lady...
Saying “Hail Mary...”
The angel assured Our Lady that God thought she was someone really special, and that he had a special task for her...
She was going to have a child, who would be recognised as great, the Son of God
Remember – 12 years old, and confronted with this!She asks “How can this be? I am not married?”
Shocking news! A baby! And only just no longer a child herself!Girls were usually engaged at 12 and married at 13 or 14!
Ah, says the Angel – God has sorted that out! No man required!
The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you!See the Dove! The symbol of the Holy Spirit!
What could she do? What about the scandal? To be unmarried and pregnant was surely a problem at that time!But this was God’s request! And when God asks something of you, something so important....
Yes! If that is what God wants, let it be...
And with that she was left alone.But not alone, for inside her, God’s Spirit was moving... And growing ... And growing ...
Meanwhile... Across the world, ancient wisdom was scanning the skies...They knew that God’s actions would not go unmarked... And it didn’t!
Setting off on a long and arduous journey, these wise men - the Persian word for such early scientists and mystics was “Magi” – ventured out in faith, following, and yet not fully knowing to where they were to be led. Now the Holy Bible doesn’t say how many there were. We only know of the three gifts they brought.
Because of the three gifts, the tradition is that there were three Magi.Tradition has named them Kaspar, Melchior and Balthazar. We don’t really know their names... There could have been a dozen rather stingy wise men, or a couple of really generous ones. It doesn’t matter. There have been so many stories woven around this truth that some people have filled in the gaps. It doesn’t detract from the truth of this mysterious tale... The tale of the wise, eastern studiers of ancient wisdom...
...following a star so bright, it was visible day and night.Many saw the light, and didn’t register what it was all about...
Meanwhile... Back in Nazareth the tongues were wagging...Our Lady, who was engaged to be married to a Carpenter called Joseph was starting to show signs. That was scandalous! Outrageous! Rude! You couldn’t hide it!Joseph was a decent man. He was an older man, lost his first wife, already had children. He knew this child wasn’t his. He wasn’t going to cause trouble and break off their engagement publically – until the night of his dream!
A Messenger of God was sent once again to Joseph, to assure him of God’s plan. His task was to be a step-dad to God’s own son – an important task and one I think we often overlook. Joseph was, like Mary, full of faith and when God asked him to fulfil HIS important role, he also said YES!
The Emperor of Rome, the most powerful man in the world decides to find out exactly how many people owe him money...He declares a census (and there are lots of other Roman documents which show this to have happened) to count the people. Everyone has to travel back to their home town and get registered.
So Joseph and his now heavily-pregnant wife have to pack up and travel to Bethlehem from Nazareth
Nazareth to Bethlehem: 80 miles – at least 4 days journey, walking and riding a donkey, but they would have travelled slower than that – so they would have been on the road for about a week!
So after their long journey, by the time they had got to their destination, because other people had got there faster, there was no room for them.
So they had to stay in a stable.The images of great artists make this look wonderful: warm and snug, idealic and homely.But God’s ways are not our ways...
St Francis was the first one to recreate the Nativity Scene, not to make us go AwwwwBut to remind us of how basic, how cold, how smelly the stable would have been. It probably wasn’t even the wooden barn that many artists paint, but more likely a cave, with water running down the walls and great mounds of animal mess everywhere
Don’t be seduced by the idea that this was all lovely.This was the worst start possible for a newborn: a long way from home, in filth and squalor and poverty.God knows himself what challenges some people have to go through: the challenges they have in their lives because he has lived them himself. He started on this earth in this way. He poured himself out for us.
Such an inauspicious birth. Unnoticed by everyone. Unmarked.
Except – by those on the hillsides outside BethlehemWe often view shepherds as good examples of the honest working man these days. But back then Shepherds were looked down on. Their long, relentless hard work meant they had to be on the hillsides at all times. They couldn’t observe the Sabbath day of rest (for wolves are no respecters of a Saturday off) and so they were seen as poor quality Jews, rude and unrespectable.And yet, once again, God’s ways are not our ways, and to these unrespectable people, people like you and I, God’s message is first made known...
The cold night is brought to life with the appearance of Angels
To the amazement, and confusion of these rough working men
Angels appear in the sky singing
“Glory to God in the highest and peace to all people”
They rush from the hillsides, babbling about what they have seenThey rush to the stable
And the first people to witness the birth of Christ are rough working people
And from the east, the wise men are still travelling. They visit the local King Herod and ask him about a new King.Herod was a devious evil man, put in power by the Romans and fearful of his position. The Magi assumed that the Son of God would be born in a Palace, but as we know, God’s ways are not our ways...Herod tried to work out where this threat might come from, and plotted bad things for his rival...
The Magi travelled on... Towards the small town which the Prophets foretold would be the Messiah’s birthplace - Bethlehem
Until they found the child.
And they were able to present their three gifts.Gold – to signify Jesus’ role as a King, although not the kind of king Herod fearedFrankinsense – to signify Jesus’ holiness, with the kind of incense that we burn in our worship even today& Myrrh – a special ointment used on wounds and especially in the treatment of bodies after they had died, which says something special about Jesus future and the Cross and the vistory Jesus would win over sin and death through the cross.It might seem a little funny to speak of Jesus’ death when he was a small child, but the two are linked. God’s ways are not human ways...
Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh
Although we traditionally bring the wise men into the Stable scene, they probably arrived a bit after, when May and Joseph and the Christ Child – the Holy Family – had got a proper room by thenAlthough Herod wanted to know when they had found this King, the Magi were suspicious of him, and went home another way, missing out Herod completely
Herod was furious, and fearful of being replaced, decided to have his rival done away withSo he ordered his soldiers to have all children under two murdered in Bethlehem
We call them the Holy Innocents.There have been many many incidents where innocent blood has been spilt, and God weeps over all of them. Then as well as now.
Joseph was once again warned by an angel, and the Holy Family managed to escape to EgyptAnother long and arduous journey of many days, running in fear of their lives.
They arrived in Egypt as refugees: homeless, poor and tired.Jesus was an asylum seeker. Never forget that.
But the story of course does not end there. The baby Jesus does not remain a baby.The wonderful story, so popular in art and image, continuesThe child becomes a Man
The Man reveals himself to be truely the Messiah, the annointed one, the special chosen one of God
And the vulnerable baby will show God’s true power on the Cross
...and in the victory of the Resurrection.This is a story which, if I told it in full, there would not be enough time in the world to tell it. For Christians believe that the story of Christ is continuing even today...Working in you and in me.Amen
The Most Outrageous Story Ever Told
The most outrageous story ever told…<br />Fr. Simon Rundell SCP<br />Vicar, St. Thomas the Apostle, Elson<br />