Christmas is about many things for many people. It is about Santa and gifts; about families and feasts. It is about cards and cakes; about songs and shopping. But the truth underlying all of this is that at Christmas we remember that God chose to intervene in the lives of one couple and in so doing intervened in the lives of all people in the form of a tiny baby, born in an obscure village in the middle of an occupied nation.
This is our memory of God and it lives on in the hearts and minds of people today because if God could act in that way then, God can certainly act once again in our lives today.
As I have said frequently before, everyone loves a baby, but Christmas is not about babies. Christmas is about the myriad ways in which God makes a home: in our hearts; in our homes and in our world.
Mary and Joseph were not an ideal couple. Mary was an unwed, pregnant, no doubt illiterate teenage girl and it was probably an arranged marriage. Mary and certainly Joseph did not come from an ideal family, just look at the scoundrels, thieves, schemers, foreigners and adulterers whom Matthew and Luke tell us where in his family tree. Bethlehem was not an auspicious town and the stable where Mary gave birth was not an ideal place for such an event.
When we remember the story of Christmas, we remember how God intervened in the life of one less than ideal couple, and we look at our own lives, we have hope. If God can work in the life of Mary and Joseph, then he can work in my life too.
When we remember the story of Christmas and we remember how God intervened in the life of one family, and we look at our own families, we have hope. If God can work in a family full of scoundrels, thieves, schemers, foreigners and adulterers who make up Joseph’s ancestors, then he can work in my crazy family too.
When we remember the story of Christmas and we remember how God intervened in the history of one town, one nation and he did it in the noise and smell of a barn, we have hope. If God can be born in a barn 2000 years ago, then he can be born in the chaos, and violence and uncertainty of our world today.
We celebrate Christmas year after year, not just because we love the food or the carols or the tradition but because year after year but as in the carol O Come All ye Faithful we are reminded that just as God did not abhor, meaning dislike, the Virgin, neither does God abhor us. It doesn’t matter that our lives, or our families or world are not perfect. What matters is that we make a space, not matter how small, for God in our hearts. When we do that, God will do the rest and Christ will once more be born in the Bethlehem of our lives and the mangers of our hearts.
Memories are a powerful thing and the memory of God taking human flesh and living among us is perhaps the most powerful memory of all, because it reminds us that just as God loved Mary enough to make a home in her womb and in her heart, so he loves us enough to make a home and a manger in our hearts as well.
Christmas is about memories, and the memory we celebrate today is the memory of God’s love. In the craziness of our lives, our families and our world today, remember one thing: that God really does love you and wants to make a home in your heart just as he made a home in that stable so many years ago.