My song is love unknown,
My Saviour’s love to me;
Love to the loveless shown,
That they might lovely be.
O who am I, that for my sake
My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?
Jesus was born into a time of economic, political, social and religious tension. The Roman census which displaced Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem is about tax revenue and may well have been the spark that ignited civil unrest (taxation and protest have long been closely aligned). Herod ‘the Great’ responded viciously to any hint of rivalry, dispatching forces to murder infants and toddlers who could be the prophesied Davidic King/Messiah. Religious authorities were revelling in the rebuild of the Jerusalem Temple, funded by the half-Jewish Roman puppet king that Herod was. The world was in upheaval.
Jesus was born into this messed up, volatile, tense and fractious context. On a night of banal regularity, a young woman gave birth to her first child. She was remarkable only in that her story echoed those of so many others. Poverty, risk, desperation and isolation accompanied the birth of her son, her husband the only help at hand that we know about. His hands, so used to carving wood, put to the unfamiliar tasks of birthing.
This child born without a halo, lacking the symphonic soundtrack, at risk of infection, starvation, hypothermia… the normal risks of birth in a non-medicalised environment. This child is so ordinary: mucus wiped away, his body dried, his umbilical cord cut, fed at the breast, placenta delivered. He would be placed out of harms way – to sleep off the rigours of birth as mother and father cope with the clear up.
Off in the hills above the town shepherds are visited by angelic beings and are told what no one would know, if it were not for Heaven being unable to hold its secret silent. Off in the distance pagan magicians follow a star they have divined heralds the coming of a Jewish King who would see to the rise and fall of many nations. In the northern hills of Galillee, Elizabeth, an elderly woman cradles her own miracle 9 month old son, and wonders when the news of her kinswoman’s delivery would come; when the news of the Deliverer would reach their village.
This frail child, lain in an animal feeding trough, is the Bread of Heaven come down to bring eternal life, the Light of the World come to reveal the way, truth and life, the One and Only Son of God. His frail flesh will grow and is headed for the cross, the grave and then to reign as the Lord of Life defeating Death for all eternity. There in that child, God has not simply come to be among us – but has come to be one of us, to be with us, that we might come to know Him.
Two thousand years on, we gather in malls and spend money we do not have, eat food we do not need, buy clothes that will not wear out before we weary of them, celebrate an old man dressed in red, lie to our children, lie to each other and talk of the spirit of Christmas. All the time Christ is reduced to a plastic figure at the base of trees: ignored, marginalised and paid scant regard as we march on into selfish consumption.
How fitting a reminder of our need for Him still.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Have a great Christmas:
don’t allow the celebration
to hide Christ from your heart.