Tuesday, December 16, 2008

O Bethlehem!

Readings for the last Sunday in Advent. Sunday 21st December 2Sam 7:1-11, 16, Magnificat, Romans 16:25-27, Luke 1:26-38
We experience a lot of Christmas input at this time One good question I heard asked about various school and church presentations was:
Why all these stories and plays with a Christmas
theme What's wrong with the story of the stable at Bethlehem.........?

There are of course many representations of that story and it is rich in symbolism, myth (in the finest sense of that word) and cultural nuance
When in doubt we should allow God's Word of Scripture to do its wonderful work in our hearts So take time this week to read the readings and just to allow them to speak to you. As you sit through the endless Carol Services take time too to be a little more open. Remember, as we see in this week's readings, that Christmas is God showing himself to us in human form. It is about understanding who God is, and what God is about.
So we find that Mary, when confronted by the angel has to begin on a journey of discovery because she does not understand what all this might mean
"29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be"
And Paul tells us at the end of
Romans as we read today
"the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages
26but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith"
The sort of message, that so puzzles Mary, is God revealing in Jesus what has been true for all time. This is the overarching message of the Christmas story.
God is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ. He is, what controversialist, John AT Robinson describes as
The Human Face of God. This is a description I find really helpful.
God cannot be described...he is indeed "
the mystery that was kept secret" our philosophy, our history, even our theology does not come close to fully disclosing who God is if we want to know what God is like then the fullest revelation is Jesus.
So what do we see

We find at Christmas a deeply confronting story. God chooses a young girl about whom we know remarkably little.
In the short passage of this morning's Gospel we know more about Joseph ....

a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David

than we do about Mary herself
In fact we know more about Zechariah and Elizabeth than we do about their cousin:

he belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth.
6Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.
What might this say to us?
At the very least we are reminded that God views people differently from the way we do.
We make different choices about what is important so we look for wealth, success, power and prestige ..
God looks differently.
There is an invitation here in the Christmas story to look with different eyes at the world in which we live.
In the reading from the Hebrew bible too, we read of David's desire to build a Temple. This seems like a righteous desire, a good thing.
But it is not what God wants.
We do not always get it right, we are often fixated on the material when God is inviting us to look deeper.
These are two modest insights that we get from addressing the stories of the Bible rather than sidetracking it.

Making room

Part of the frustration for us at Christmas is finding Jesus amidst it all.
Let us not so much complain about what Woolworths and Target do, let us rather see the challenge to point ourselves and others to Jesus.
Ask tricky intelligent questions of your youngsters:
Why did God come as a baby?
What is he trying to tell us by being born in a stable?
Why did the shepherds and the wise men come?
and what do you think they said to Mary and Joseph?
What would we say to them?

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