A Christmas Reflection
by Jeff Montgomery
It's an image that has always been with me. Through different periods of my life, whether I was church-going or not, or whether I was Catholic or Protestant, the story of the Nativity has always been very present in my mind during Christmas.
There are a number of reasons for this, I think. First, the image of Mary kneeling before the Angel Gabriel to receive the word of God is very powerful. How many of us have been so directly present to one of God's messengers? Imagine a quiet, humble woman, living out her life in Nazareth, suddenly being addressed by a true angel. It must have been both terrifying and fascinating.
Imagine, too, how she must have felt to first hear that she was to bear the very Son of God! Despite the potential hardships and problems it would cause, she calmly accepted God's will, totally and completely. How many of us could do the same? If God presents us with a path that goes in a direction that seems difficult, would we accept so readily? Mary's courage in doing so is almost beyond comprehension.
Likewise, Joseph showed his own courage in what was undoubtedly a difficult situation. Yet, he too, after hearing from an angel, accepted God's will and carried on with his marriage to Mary and earthly fatherhood of Jesus. I sometimes imagine that during the initial few days of this special time Joseph was really operating on faith. He knew, because God had sent a messenger to explain it, what was happening, but it must have been difficult to know, deep in his soul, that it was real. He is truly an example of living out one's faith.
The journey to Bethlehem also touches me. Having seen what my wife has gone through being pregnant (three times), I can imagine (if not truly empathize) what Mary must have gone through. Days of riding bareback on a donkey over rough country. The struggle to find a place to stay in Bethlehem. Giving birth in a stable. Terrible things to have to endure when you're nine months pregnant. But endure it she, and Joseph, did.
Of course, the actual birth of Jesus is so special in so many ways.
The beauty of God's plan to experience life as a human is simply incredible. He could have snapped his godly fingers and just appeared, fully formed as an adult. He could have taken on any appearance he wanted. But he chose to come into the world like all of the rest of us, to share the human experience. By doing so, I think it shows two things about God's love for us.
First, that He loves our humanness. Even though He created all of us, and knows every molecule of our being, He chose to share the experience of truly being human. Through that action, He lived through the same experiences both physical and mental that we all do. He, of course, remained sinless, but still experienced temptation. He also experienced love, and hunger, and the act of building things with his own hands. I like to think the He went through these things and was pleased.
Secondly, by being born in the usual human way He shows us that He is with us from the moment of our conception, just as he was in the person of Jesus. He infused his presence into the sinless body of Mary to conceive Jesus, and remained in Jesus throughout His life. He does the same for us.
Finally, the image of the stable where he was born is a powerful image of His humble beginnings. God could have come into the world in any way he chose: as a king or a mighty warrior, riding from the sky on a golden chariot with trumpets blaring. But he chose to enter it in humble surroundings, as a baby. I often imagine the darkness of the night, broken by the soft glow of candles inside the stable. The smell of the hay and the animals is very powerful. For some reason, I always imagine it being quiet.
In these humble surroundings, Jesus came into the world. And He came here for us. This wasn't just some kind of cosmic science experiment that God would cast aside once he was done. Jesus came into the world not only for us, but OF us. He started by being born in the most simple of environments. Soon after, He was visited by other humble people - shepherds, beggars, old people, children - who gazed in awe at this newborn King. Nobody questioned it - they knew who He was.
I credit this image of the Nativity with keeping me from straying too far off the straight and narrow back in the days when I didn't go to church much, if at all. Even in the middle of summer I would sometimes have a fleeting glimpse in my mind of the stable, and somehow know that something special happened in Bethlehem that night, something that reverberates to this day. During the Christmas season I would always be drawn to the various depictions of the Nativity around town and in the stores. In the ensuing years, images of the Nativity have helped me to remain focused on the true reason that we even celebrate Christmas.
My kids have a book that tells the story of a little lame lamb that was in the stable when Jesus was born. He was sad because his fellow lambs had left him behind to go romp in the field. In the end, because he was left behind, he was called upon to bring warmth to the newborn Jesus. The book ends with Jesus curled up against the lamb, contentedly sleeping.
Its an appropriate image for the season - Jesus came into the world to not only commune with us in our human endeavors, but to bring comfort to us all, from the lame and crippled to the rich and wealthy.
Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas, and be sure to invite the Christ child into your lives!
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