Today’s post is a wish for a blessed Christmas for you and yours, a wish for peace and joy and all the things that (thank you, Paul) are to be seen at least through a hazy mirror even here and now, imperfectly yes, the sort of things of the heart that one day we will see more clearly, more face-to-face.
Christmas reminds me it is there for the seeing, it is here for the grabbing hold of, that it’s to been seen clearly in the Christ Child (and the Christ Adult, out of the manger), these remarkable truths and secrets – God in the flesh – these wonders to be held as anyone in the best of times can barely hold on to dear life itself.
At the time of this Christmas Day writing, I can still hear (besides the crying of someone’s hungry baby in the living room) the laughter from plenty of visitors outside.
This is where everyone has been playing some football (as it’s called in Uganda) on our front lawn, the same place where we had other visitor over to carol under the stars a couple of weeks ago, where, on other more mundane days of the year, the cats roam, the dog chases his orange ball, and the grass receives its African allotments of rain and sunshine.
Visiting this Christmas Day are Ugandans (and others) running around barefooted (is there any other way to run through the grass?), Ugandans who know football like Canadians know hockey.
The Children’s Mother, because she has such open hands, and such an open heart, has invited them over.
She and the children and I had our own time of everything Christmas earlier in the day, not to mention in the final hours of last night, a time that ran into the early part of Christmas morn itself.
Then, first thing after we rose, even before unwrapping a single gift or eating a bite of Christmas breakfast, we read the story, that is The Story, the one where where words became The Word, the one where the Author of It All took to the stage of his own drama.
Speaking of The Story, there is an ongoing project of that very name, an online reading project that is attracting thousands of readers worldwide, especially in Canada, readers who are opting to read and feed on the Ancient Book through 21st Century means, on the web.
For these days of Christmas 2015, I was asked to contribute several brief reflections. One, on open hands, is here, (which is also below).
You can also find my previous reflections for The Story archived here.
11When the men went into the house and saw the child with Mary, his mother, they knelt down and worshipped him. They took out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh and gave them to him.12Later they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, and they went back home by another road.
13After the wise men had gone, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up! Hurry and take the child and his mother to Egypt! Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is looking for the child and wants to kill him.”
14That night, Joseph got up and took his wife and the child to Egypt,15where they stayed until Herod died. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “I called my son out of Egypt.”
16When Herod found out that the wise men from the east had tricked him, he was very angry. He gave orders for his men to kill all the boys who lived in or near Bethlehem and were two years old and younger. This was based on what he had learnt from the wise men.
17So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said,
18“In Ramah a voice was heard
crying and weeping loudly.
Rachel was mourning
for her children,
and she refused
to be comforted,
because they were dead.”
19After King Herod died, an angel from the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph while he was still in Egypt.20The angel said, “Get up and take the child and his mother back to Israel. The people who wanted to kill him are now dead.”
21Joseph got up and left with them for Israel.22But when he heard that Herod’s son Archelaus was now ruler of Judea, he was afraid to go there. Then in a dream he was told to go to Galilee,23and they went to live there in the town of Nazareth. So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Contemporary English Version. Copyright © 1995 British & Foreign Bible Society. Used by permission.
The story of the first Christmas conjures up all sorts of images, not the least of which is the idyllic scene of the wise men kneeling at the manger of the Christ-child with their precious gifts.
The reality was more rustic. Jesus was born in a smelly cave if anywhere, with smelly and scruffy shepherds visiting, yes, but with … no wise men.
In this passage, Matthew tells us that the Magi (there’s nothing to indicate there was only three), in fact, came to Jesus when he was a toddler in a house in Bethlehem, just before Joseph and Mary fled with Jesus to Africa to escape Herod’s murderous rage.
Which is to say that the first Christmas, and Jesus’ early youth has a certain glory to it. But only to the extent that the incarnation is also filled with the muddiness of this world.
In a year that saw the largest refugee crisis hit Europe since the Second World War, it’s heartening to remember this, that Jesus and his family were also refugees, an impoverished family needing help as they travelled through great perils for their very survival.
This is where those gifts might have come in. There’s no record of what Mary and Joseph did with that gold, myrrh and frankincense, gifts of worship worth more money than they’d see in their lifetimes. But in God’s economy those valuable and sellable items seemed to arrive just in time for their emergency departure from Bethlehem.
The angel’s warning to Joseph was sudden. There was no time to save for such a journey, if saving was even possible for the impoverished family.
But, one way or another, God provided. And God still provides through the same ways; through gifts from the Father above and through open hands from his people below.
Dear Heavenly Father: Thank you for providing for all my needs, one way or another. Help me to be wise like those wise men and help me to, in turn, open my own hands to offer my own precious gifts to those who have great needs.