The Story of Christmas

It’s Christmas again and we are telling the story of the baby Jesus born in a manger. This is a beautiful story and we tell it each year under the Christmas tree, as we hang up our Christmas stockings, hoping that Santa Claus will come down the chimney and bring us beautiful and expensive presents. At the same time we say that we have to get back to the true story of Christmas.

How terrible it is that this materialistic society has stolen Christmas from Jesus and made up stories that misdirect our focus. Or is this what always happens when God comes to live with us. When God comes to our world we want him to live within our culture, challenge our culture and transform our culture. The only deep concern is when our culture changes the message of Jesus; at least the message we understand and preach. Maybe Santa Claus, the tree and the stockings have changed the message of Christmas to one of greed rather than giving, but that was not their roots.

Christmas has spawned many stories of celebration, generosity and giving, which have their roots in the gift of Jesus for the world. The story of Saint Nicholas and the associated story of the Christmas stockings have their roots in the right place. The Christmas tree may be taken from a previous cultural tradition, but that was centuries ago and the Christian story has long superseded that.

Look up their histories for yourself and see where they come from. Maybe we have failed to tell these stories in their proper context and left open an opportunity for others, with less noble motives, to take them over. These stories have been told since antiquity, to illustrate how the incarnation changes people and effects their behaviour. Surely that is what the Christmas story is about.

Isn’t it for this reason, that we tell the story of the baby born in a manger, with the shepherds and the wise men standing around. Yet we are not embarrassed that almost all of the story we tell is not in the Bible; that we have extrapolated a whole series of details, to fill out the story, to make it more enjoyable for us to tell, and more engaging for us to listen to.

It is not even probable that Mary rode a donkey from Nazareth, or that the “Inn” was an hotel with an Inn-Keeper, or that “no room” means the hotel was full. We have no record of a stable with animal standing around, but we do know that Jesus was placed in a manger. The rest of the birth scene has been extrapolated from that one detail. Yes, the shepherds did come, and we don’t seem to have added too much to their story, except the very English stable setting we have already created. But the wise men are another story.

We have asserted that there were three, presumably because there were three gifts. And we have given them names. We have also made them kings, given them crowns to wear and camels to ride. We have brought them to the stable, so we can set up a great photo opportunity, with all the heroes of the story together. We know however that the wise men found Jesus in a house with just Mary and Joseph.

The Bible stories are also told to show us how Jesus, “God with us” draws people to himself and changes them.

Whether we make up a story, or retell an old one, it is up to us to make sure the message of Jesus, born to be saviour of the world, God with us, is told. This week I am telling a simple story I have made up and I hope you can hear the message of Christmas as I tell it to you.

The Christmas story is about incarnation; God coming to live in our world, in our story, for every individual, nation and culture. The story cries out to be told because it is Good News. It is a story about new life and hope for the future and that is a story that is always worth telling. Happy Christmas.

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