A Life Less Ordinary – Christmas Reflections

She is just a young woman from a little town you might never have heard of, a place of no importance at all – except this young woman is called Mary (or Miryam). It is the 1st century BC, and the pattern of her life is set by the rules and rituals of her Jewish heritage and the Roman rule under which her country lives. She works alongside, and lives with, her family and is engaged to be married to Joseph; perhaps, her head is full of thoughts about Joseph, about how she will arrange her new home with her soon-to-be-husband, what they will do together, the life that they will live and the family they will have. Maybe, as these thoughts occupy her as she works, she keeps that secret smile worn by lovers everywhere lightly on her lips.

She is just a ordinary young woman, on the cusp of an ordinary life – that is, until she claims that she has been visited by an angel of God called Gabriel who tells her that she will bear God’s own child.  Mary knows the times in which she lives – she will not be married, she will be pregnant. Yet she agrees.

We have a glimpse of what being pregnant and unmarried meant for both Mary – and Joseph – in the Gospel of Matthew:

Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced. (Matthew 1:19 – The Message)

Mary was facing disgrace: she would be an outcast – unwed, a fallen woman, her child unwanted by all except it’s mother: Joseph was feeling betrayed, hurt, let down by the woman he was pledged to marry. This was messy, painful, frightening stuff:  the weight of societies judgements hang over both Mary and Joseph, and their families. You can almost hear the whispers of the gossips, the wagging of the pointed fingers and feel the appalled disapproval of those around them.  And these are the circumstances into which God incarnate is to be born?

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 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel. (Luke 2: 6 -7 The Message)

Life for Mary, Joseph and the child she carries  does not get less messy, for though Joseph marries Mary he must take his pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census – an arduous one over the mountains through Cana and though the barren terrain of Judea. On arrival in his home town Joseph cannot find anywhere for his family to stay, save for the place that the cattle are kept. There is no cradle, only a manger – the trough from which the animals feed.

No place for this young family, for this child, to rest their heads. No safe home, scant physical comfort – only the warmth of the cattle with whom they share their lodgings. And these are the circumstances into which God incarnate is born?

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What I love about the Christmas story – and there is much to love -is how God chooses to  be born into the chaotic messy fringes of society: out on the edge, outside of the expected and the acceptable. In fact, he chooses the unexpected and the unacceptable.

And that speaks to me: we still live in a world where governments and media so easily condem, judge, criticise and blame the poor, the single parent, the weak and the vulnerable. These circumstances are messy, and God chose messy. These lives are without status or power – and this was what God chose to be born into.

Tonight, once more, a child is born: a king without power, whose bed is an animals feeding trough and whose earthly parents have little – except for their love and faith which they have in abundance. This is where God is.

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