“This Marvelous Story”
A Christmas Eve Reflection by Rev. Dr. Thom Bower
Every year we retell the nativity story. Each year someone will ask, “Is it true?” “Is it really true?” My answer is, “It is true, but it may not be historically accurate.” The gospels give us a theological truth – and that is different than historical truth.
You see, one of the ways that historians validate truth is to compare sources. Quirinius and Emperor Caesar are both verified by material outside the Bible. But other than the bible, there is no other source that tells us that Emperor Augustus ever required a census let alone that every male had to road-trip their family to some ancestral birthplace to fulfill that census.
The gospels’ point, though, is not to name the day and place of Jesus’ birth as though filling out a birth certificate. The scriptures give us a theological truth – and that is different than historical truth.
The theological truth is God took human form and lived in a known place and in a known time. Our God does not live outside the realm of human events but instead is very active within history – from the greatest events to the smallest events.
The theological truth is that Jesus, the person in whom God took human form, was a regular human being. Our God who takes on human form does so from the very start – being pushed from a mother’s womb into the relationships of family and extended family and even into the complex socio-economic relationships that shape human living.
This is not the Messiah that was expected. God used the ordinary – not the extraordinary – to share God’s own self, and that is extraordinary.
The expectation was a Messiah who would command military troops and circulate among powerful government officials and wealthy business folk and people who shaped culture and history.
But from the very beginning the birth of this messiah is announced not in public squares but to shepherds out in fields, shepherds who were barred from regular worship at the temple simply because of their occupation.
From the very beginning this messiah is shows up in places where the messiah was not expected: the birth of this messiah is not within a luxurious palace but in a common stable; this messiah sleeps not in a fancy cradle with comfortable blankets but in a borrowed food trough lined with straw.
This messiah will not raise an army or even a congress of poets and artists. This messiah will walk with fishermen – another group barred from regular worship because of their occupation. This messiah will dare to speak with women and children and tax collectors and people with diseases and people who have no money and are left by the sides of roadways.
It seems that the gospels are telling us right from the start of this story that to understand the truths God invites us into we have to get out of the center of things, get away from the important people with status and wealth and go out to the edges, get out to the places where people who have been overlooked are hanging out – because God is already there doing marvelous things.
Among the beautiful music, the candle light and decorations, the truth we are reminded of this night of all nights is that God took human form because God loves humanity. When God took this form, it was to care for the most-needy of the world. The truth we are reminded of this night of all nights is that “Peace on Earth and Good will to all” only happens as we take care of one another because Christ has first cared for us. This is the truth of tonight’s marvelous story, made more marvelous by the ways we live it out every day.