Isaiah 9: 2-7, Isaiah 62: 6-12, Isaiah 52: 7-10
Psalms 96, 97, 98
Titus 2: 11-14, Titus 3: 4-7
Luke 2: 1-14 (15-20), John 1: 1-14
(all references NRSV)
A reflection by Andrew Bennett
. Two individuals, one an expectant mother, are travelling and need a room at an inn (Luke 2: 1-7). Not finding one, they are assigned to a manger or barn. That is where the baby is born. There appears to be little in the way of imperial trappings here.
However, it soon becomes clear from the cited scriptural passages that this is no ordinary birth and no ordinary baby. We are told that angels appear to herders, instructing them that this child who has been born this night, is the Messiah (Luke 2: 11-12). There will be more socially important people later on, but first, we start with shepherds living out their lives. They become the first ones to go to Bethlehem to see the child (Luke 2: 15-20).
This child, however, is more important than what would first appear. As the proclaimed Messiah, he is “named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9: 6). He will become known as the one who has been spoken about by the prophets who has come to do something new (Hebrews 1: 1-2).
Specifically, Christians believe that this “new thing” is an offering of salvation, “not through our own works”, but through “his mercy, through the water of rebirth, and through the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3: 5). This is, in fact, the whole “reason for the season” as it were. This comes as a “free gift” offered to all who confess the name of Christ as their Savior.
This “free gift” is offered as part of being in a relationship with God. This relationship is what God wants. I read an article recently about evangelical youth and young adults beginning to become attracted to Roman Catholic and “high church” Anglican and Lutheran congregations. The speculation this article gives in regards to this trend is that perhaps these individuals are feeling more connected to some of the ancient ways of doing the Eucharist, ways of worship, theologies, practices, including prayer and ways of reading scripture. These are things that apparently those fleeing to these churches are not finding in their old churches (van Doodewaard, 2013, July 13, http://thechristianpundit.org/2013/07/17/young-evangelicals-are-getting-high, downloaded December 15, 2013).
Of course, there must be some reason why shift occurred earlier and, most likely, are still staying in some of these evangelical churches. Perhaps those in earlier days did not believe that these churches were offering them what they needed. What I want to suggest, by my example here, is what people seem to be craving and needing (and what is at the heart of the authentic Christian message) is not “trappings”, but rather an authentic and personal relationship with God through the person of Jesus Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is not unique to the evangelical denominations. Any time the Church focuses more on “things” than on God, we neglect to serve what is truly important and fall away from what God wants from us. “Things” can be important, but they should not be as important as the call to relationship with God. This call of relationship is accomplished not by the standards and trappings of the world, but through an actual coming to God through our hopes and fears and hurts.
The Christmas story indicates that God, indeed, wants us to be involved in this kind of authentic and personal relationship. The prologue of John indicates “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14). That is about as personal as God can get and the symbolism of God taking on human form is not an accident. Through the Grace of God, we have an opportunity to have this relationship despite so many ways humans try to violate the bounds of that relationship. That grace gives us opportunity to return to relationship with God.