The world is full of stories, both real and fictional. We all love a good story, you only have to walk into a bookshop or go to a cinema to discover how we love a story. There are stories that have us on the edge of our seats, stories that touch our hearts, stories of escapism. There are good stories and bad ones. Some short, some very long (think War and Peace). But nothing compares to the greatest story ever told.
This Christmas millions are once again reading, rehearsing, singing and celebrating it all over the world. People from a whole variety of backgrounds, captivated and enthralled by that one unique, unparalleled story, the story of the birth of Jesus. Now of course, theres nothing unusual about a birth, after all, there are millions everyday, taking place all over the world. But this one was different, so different, and stands out from all other birth stories. First, it was a long time in coming, it had been promised long before in some detail, and a whole nation had been waiting for this moment, except that when it happened it wasn’t quite what they expected and took everyone by surprise! No one was ready for it! Are you?
It begins with an angel appearing to an everyday teenage girl engaged to be married, telling her she is going to have a child, but not by the usual means, rather the Holy Spirit was going to come upon her and she would conceive supernaturally! The baby she was going to carry wasnt going to be like any other, he was the Son of God, Emmanuel – God with us. And they were told his name was to be Jesus because he would save people from their sins – talk about what’s in a name!
On the day it all happened there were some shepherds going about their normal, everyday, business, of caring for their sheep, the everyday, night after night routine, when that night suddenly all unannounced an angel appeared and the sky was filled with light – the glory of the Lord! This was a first for them, never seen an angel before, and boy were they afraid. But the angels settled them and told them they had come with good news of great joy to all people, the Saviour, the long awaited Promised One had been born in Bethlehem, not in a palace – there weren’t any there – but he would be found laying in a manger. Then as if drawn in by an unseen conductor, a huge company of angels appeared singing the praises and purposes of God. Good news of the Saviour, news of peace and great joy. Wow! Awe! This wasn’t a temple service, a meeting in the synagogue. They weren’t looking for anything or feeling all religious. It was another ordinary moment looking after sheep. Can this really be so? Impacted by what they had seen and heard they hurried off into Bethlehem and found out that it was just as the angel had told them! Wow! Awe! Wonder! Then they went back to the fields, the sheep, to work, glorifying and praising God for everything they had seen and heard – it was just as the angels had said to them – it was for real!
Not only that, but all this took place in a crazy mixed up world. Not on a glitzy stage, not surrounded by lights and tinsel. There were Roman occupiers, political and religious factions, there was injustice, trouble was never far away. It was a world broken, ruined by sin and all its consequences.
Then some time later in the story, maybe a couple of years, kings, wise men, arrived from afar. They had been observing the heavens and seen a star unlike any others and believed it to mean an important king had been born. They had followed it across hills and mountains, rivers and streams, across national borders untill finally they arrived at the place where it stopped, not forgetting of course their little detour to the palace because of course that’s where kings are born, but no he wasn’t there, keep following the star! Are you looking in the wrong place?
When they finally did arrive, they offer worship and gifts, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were choice, meaningful gifts, not some last minute dash to the shops, they were gifts that spoke of kingship, priesthood and death, that had been bought and carried with great purpose. A king. A priest. A death. Imagine for a moment the thoughts of Mary and Joseph, this child a King? A priest? And death what was that about? Not just any king, but the King of kings, not just another priest, but the ultimate priest, not by any means just another death, but one that would involve paying the price for our sin, bearing the punishment, dying in our place and be the death of death. Wow! Awesome!
And the backdrop? God is love. God loves. God who is love and shares that love as Father, Son and Holy Spirit from all eternity, created us to know him and live in his love. We rebelled, big time, so much so we were alienated from the love and life of God. Not only that but we couldn’t get ourselves out of it even if we wanted to. But God continued to love, after all, it is who he is, and he has a plan, he would come to where we are, enter into the likeness of our sinful flesh, be made like his brothers and sisters in every way, enter our very brokenness and redeem it from the inside. As one church Father put it, “the unassumed is the unhealed.” Such is the nature of his love.
No wonder John writes, “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him, shall not perish, but have eternal life” or as the Christian Standard Bible puts it, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave…”
When you reflect on the Christmas story do you get the wow and respond in worship?
The greatest story ever told? Oh yes! Hallelujah!