A question: when you read a story, do you ever identify with any of the characters?That might seem difficult with the Christmas story. For many of us, it’s so familiar, we’ve lost a personal connection with it. But I want to show briefly this evening how we have a lot in common with some of the familiar characters.
You could belike Mary. As a young person and female, she was someone who had no voice and no status in her society. Yet in the Christmas story she gets to sing and prophesy, and to play the most important rôle in enabling God to bring his message of redeeming love to the world. If you think you’re a nobody, someone without a voice, the Christmas story is for you. Jesus is for you.
Or you could be Joseph. He was a good man, but still needed to know the grace and mercy of God. In a culture where a woman pregnant outside marriage could be stoned to death, he thought that by quietly ending the relationship with Mary he could do the right thing. But he was to learn that God does better than the right thing – he is about mercy and grace. Do you need to know this Christmas a God who goes above and beyond keeping the rules in the way he offers mercy to us and calls us to be merciful, too?
Or what about the shepherds? Don’t get too cosy an idea of them. They were social outcasts, often assumed to be criminals. They weren’t allowed in the Jerusalem temple, yet the religious authorities were happy to use their lambs in the sacrifices. Think of them the way many people think today about travellers, such as those who were at Dale Farm in Essex, or popular attitudes to immigrants who come and do the jobs some people who were born here don’t want to do.Do you feel like an outcast, like you aren’t socially acceptable? If you do, then there is a welcome at the manger for you. Jesus doesn’t see you that way.
Then we have the Magi. I see them as people on a journey – not just a physical journey ‘from the East’ but on a spiritual journey, trying to find truth. They were using practices that the Jews of their day and Christians today would disagree with – namely, astrology. And perhaps you are trying to find meaning or truth or purpose in something like that, or in crystals, or Tarot, or something like that. Jesus knows you are searching. Come to him, and he will give you all you need for your spiritual journey.
Of course, one person you don’t want to be like is Herod. Not that I’m suggesting anyone here wants to kill babies, but Herod felt threatened by Jesus. If Jesus was the new King, then he could tell Herod what’s what. And sometimes we don’t react well to the idea that anyone – even Jesus – has rights over our lives. But he does, because Christmas proclaims him king of kings. Herod said no to him – what will we say?
Herod called in the religious leaders of his day. And you wouldn’t want to be like them, either. They had all the knowledge (about where the Messiah was to be born). But when it came to it, they did nothing about it. If you hear about Jesus, it’s just as big a mistake to do nothing about him as it is to oppose him. Often it’s those of us who are religious who fail to follow him. But it isn’t only us. There are many people who give Jesus a nod and a wink, but no more.
So back to the question. Are you like any of the characters we’ve thought about? Do you feel insignificant like Mary was? Jesus doesn’t think you are. He has special dignity for you.Do you see yourself as a good man like Joseph? Jesus invites you to know a God who is better than good. Perhaps you feel despised, like the shepherds would have done. That isn’t how Jesus sees you. He welcomes you. Or you might be trying out various spiritual roads, like the Magi. Find all the desires of your heart met in Jesus. Just don’t feel threatened, like Herod. Jesus is not a tyrant, but a liberating king. Bow the knee to him. And whatever happens, don’t fail to act on what you know, like the religious leaders. You could miss out on Jesus and his love if you do.