Thursday, 25 December 2008

Why a baby?

A lovely telling of the Christmas Story. A beautiful crib. There is comfort in the repeating of this tradition year after year and it’s not always easy to see the awesome wonder of it.
Our God, a child in the arms of a young woman.

Why a baby?

After thousands of years of a vengeful, furious, demanding, overpowering, all powerful God,
a God that burns cities, parts waters, brings down plagues and even causes the death of children.

Why now, a baby?

And this is no sudden change of plan, this is no whim.

Before this night God hadn’t spoken to his people for hundreds of years.
The Jewish people were distraught, blaming themselves for some unforgivable sin that silenced Yahweh.
A fear that made them refine their rules and their tradition until there was not a move they could make without sanction from the priests.
They were God’s obedient children, following his commandments, competing for his approval, laying the blame on the sick, the paralysed, the poor; living in fear of his wrath. Living in anticipation of a warrior Messiah.

And then, a baby? Born to an ordinary couple, in a very ordinary town.

So what is the Christmas message?
What is it that God wants from us?

Perhaps he never wanted to be a supernatural headmaster:
perhaps he didn’t intend his children to be scared of him but to be in love with him;
perhaps when he made us in his image he expected just a little bit more:
perhaps he just wanted us to grow up?

Our God is not about vengeance, punishment or fear.
Our God is Love, only Love, and in our limited human experience, what is more profound than the love between a mother and child?
So easy to imagine when we see the crib and sing about this perfect Holy Family.
A simple story catching our heartstrings.
So easily lulled by the romance of the Christmas night.

But what was God really asking of that family? Of those ordinary people?

Mary, a young woman, probably 13 or 14 years old.
A good marriage match made to Joseph. A life mapped out before her by the customs and traditions of her people.
And then a visit by an angel challenges everything she knows, everything she believes in.
The hymns paint her as meek and mild? I really doubt it.
To be able to accept the future the angel offers her would take guts, faith and determination.
To be an unmarried mother would be unacceptable to her people, an offence that could have had her stoned to death.
If not she and her child would be outcasts. What of her plans for life with Joseph?
How do you be the mother of the Son of God?

And what of Joseph, a respected craftsman of his town, a good family from the line of David?
Even after accepting the truth of the angel’s message, it is he who will have to bring up this child. He who will have to care for the mother.
How would he live with the scandal and the humiliation.
The remarks of his friends and neighbours.
There would be no-one in that town who would not know that child wasn’t his.
They’d be forced to move away. Where would his good name be then?
How was his future going to end up?

And honestly - what must have been their first reaction? Just say ‘no’
How temptingly easy.
And that had to be an option, because God was giving himself as a baby – he needed grown-ups,
The whole point of being an ‘adult’ is choice – free will, that means we can say ‘no’ or ‘yes’, accept and live with the consequences.
So, at the same time, there couldn’t have been a ‘standby’. What would the point have been in that? God saying - I’ll keep at it until someone says ‘Yes’!
This was a once only opportunity.

Of course, God could have simply said ‘ Let it be so’ and it would have been. But he didn’t.
Even before he was born, the life of the Son of God was in human hands.

The Christian faith is rooted in the fact that ordinary people do extraordinary things.
That Mary accepted her part in her relationship with God and said ‘Yes’.
That Joseph accepted his part in his relationship with God and said ‘Yes’.
That shepherds, innkeepers, kings and philosophers found some way in their hearts to say ‘Yes’ .
And that these and all the other ‘Yes’s’ from the most unlikely people, throughout Jesus’ life gave God the opportunity to be born among us, to live a life with us, to laugh and cry with us, to make his own choice to die for us and to be with us now.

Listen to a baby cry. Left in a cot or pram sobbing for attention, for reassurance.
How long can you bear it before you make the choice?
To move out of earshot hoping someone else can deal with it,
or, to go to the child, to hold it in your arms, to comfort, to give and receive love.

Maybe that’s why a baby.
Because every Christmas we are reminded that this is what our God did.
That as much as he is our Loving Father in Heaven,
he has also been a tiny, vulnerable, beloved child of earth.
And every Christmas we are asked if we are prepared to enter that relationship of love,
To take on that responsibility.To decide that when the angel puts God into our arms, will we be able to say ‘Yes’?


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