by: Matt Levett
As we end our time together let’s take one last look at the Christmas Story through the eyes of someone we may not think instantly about but who is there throughout the story.
Mary. I wonder what that First Christmas was like for Mary? The mother of the son of God.
Her life was lived in normality punctuated by moments of utter miraculous world shattering wondrous significance. Most commentators put her as a teenage girl when she first was spoken to by an angel. When her cousin Elizabeth was 6 months pregnant an angel spoke to Mary and said “You too will be with child. Who will be called Jesus and He will be great and will be the Son of the Most High” born Mary was confused and unsure and scared but faithful. “May it be to me as you have spoken”
Nine months before the First Christmas Mary’s life was forever changed. A virgin yet now pregnant. Facing ridicule and judgment and accusation. Fearful that her betrothed Joseph may leave her. No external proof of the miraculous – just faith. Miraculous moment hidden in her heart.
And then for the next few months it goes quiet from heaven. As the birth date draws near – at a time when Mary just wants to stay still - the census is announced and Joseph and Mary make the long 70 mile 5 day journey to their home town – Bethlehem.
But the town is heaving, everyone is coming home for the census too and the Inns are full and the population is swelled maybe 3, 4 or 5 fold.
And as the first contractions started and they find themselves sharing a stable with animals behind an inn did Mary stop and wonder and think back to the earlier Angelic pronouncement – surely the Baby, the coming Saviour of the world can’t be born here like this?
A normal birth followed. It wasn’t sanitised. Jesus wasn’t born with a halo around his head. It was painful and dirty and there was blood and cries and tear of pain and of joy. And as she held him in her arms did she truly believe he was the coming Saviour? Or had she somehow got it wrong?
But then the door opened and in come the shepherds. Bearing a sacrificial lamb and they lay it at Jesus’ feet and for a few minutes the glory of heaven is opened up again – but then they leave and the door is shut and the miraculous moment is once more overtaken by normality. But Mary never fully forgot and is it any wonder that ‘she stored these moments up and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 2:19)
And then life hits top gear and they flee the city to head home via Egypt avoiding the genocidal cull of Herod. But then slowly life slips back to normality and sleepless nights and nappies and work and the normal everyday parenthood and Jesus’ uniqueness must have seemed once more hidden.
Unlike our childhood nativity plays the wise men Kings didn’t arrive the next day. They didn’t arrive during the ‘Christmas week’. It would have taken them about 18 months or so to follow the star and travel from the East – from Persia to Bethlehem or Nazareth.
(Just that fact makes the some of the rest of the story a little clearer - that’s why Matthew records them as ‘coming to the house’ – they didn’t stay in the stable forever! And that’s why Herod had all the baby boys under 2 killed – he wanted to make sure he ‘got’ Jesus.)
But eventually The Wise Men Kings appear and come bearing gifts. And for a moment heaven opens its doors once again. They bring GOLD – a gift associated with Kings. With Crowns. A gift for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. They bring FRANKINCENCE. Granular dried sap burnt by the priests as an offering for Gods worship. Woody, fruity and ancient. Visual illustrations of prayers flowing up to God. And they brought MYRRH – a thick gummy resin used as an embalming substance for the dead. All very costly gifts. All symbolic. Prophet, Priest and King
Do you ever wonder what Mary did with those gifts? Did she keep them? They seem too special to just sell or discard. Who knows? The Bible doesn’t tell us but I wonder, just wonder...
When Jesus died and was placed in the tomb. Do you remember the women came and anointed him with spices and creams and oils? Was it the same actual myrrh? The same actual frankincense that the wise men offered some 33 years before? We don’t know but there is a certain poetic sense to it all.
The Wise Men brought symbolic gifts of the ministry Jesus would have. Prophet, Priest and King. The shepherds brought sacrificial lambs mirroring the death Jesus would go through for us.
And Mary stored it all in her heart.
As we move into 2019 may this be a year when the wonder of the story stays with us. When it doesn’t get packed away with the decorations ready to be brought out next Christmas. Because Jesus didn’t come into the world so that we could get bored with Him and feel we’re too old for the childish nativity story. He came to save us, and that’s a joy we should remember every Christmas, and every day.