What would you say are the three key ingredients in the traditional Christmas dinner?
- turkey vegies
What are the ingredients in the pudding?
Well, that would be telling a family secret...
If you read the paper, watch the news and walk around the shopping centers you're likely to thik that the key ingredients of Christmas are:
- Family gatherings
- Food and drinks
If you read the bible and look at the event that started this whole Christmas thing, you'll find in Luke's version there are three key ingredients:
Luke has mixed the ingredients together so well that you can hardly tell them apart. Prophecy, history and symbolism. Luke does not explicitly say the ancient prophecy has been fulfilled, but the text quotes directly from the prophecies of Micah, Malachi and Isaiah. Anyone who is anyone in the ancient would be able to make the connection.
In the town of Bethlehem a baby will be born who will be the prince of the ancient line of David and who will shepherd scattered people bringing peace just as the prophet said. Peace will be established with Justice and here in the midst of this tale the prophecy is coming to fulfilment.
Luke is also interested in history. He locates the story in the context of the Roman Empire when Caesar Augustus called for a census and Luke places his story even more specifically in the historical time frame when Quirinius was governor of Syria. These blokes, Caesar Augustus and Quirinius were both bloodthirsty tyrants who historians tell us have horrors marked to their names ranked today alongside Hitler or Mussolini. It seems to me that the modern day governors of Syria are not much better. Even as we speak, the people of Syria are being brutalised by an oppressive military rule and flee their homeland in fear of their lives. Throughout history, human beings experience the need for salvation. The new born baby prophets foretold, would be the Saviour, the Christ, the Messiah, born into the historical context when the Jews had been experiencing centuries of persecution. They were longing for a new type of King to save them from oppression. The gentile world was also looking for a saviour to redeem them from the menace of war.
Along with prophecy and history, symbolism is also a key ingredient in this story. We’ve got a poor and humble family in the night with no shelter forced to share a birthing suit with animals. It’s an obscure corner of the empire, yet angels, stars and heavenly hosts all pointing toward the child wrapped in strips of cloth to symbolise his poverty, in a trough from which the animals eat.
The symbolism is powerful. God is born into poverty under an oppressive regime. For any people living in similar circumstances, this is indeed good news. Here we have the arcytypal l golden child born with a quest to bring peace in a time of trial. Ancient people believed that the stars were spiritual beings and here they are singing familiar words of praise. They symbolism is powerful. Here are a myriad of heavenly hosts with the glory of God shining around them proclaiming the message humans who long for peace everywhere must to hear and take to heart: do not be afraid. It is fear that drives all war and fuels all divisions.
Luke employs his ingredient of symbolism again when he has shepherds becoming the first people to bear witness to this birth. The rabbis had placed a ban on shepherds barring them from testifying in court because they could not practice the rituals of cleanliness while working in the fields. They are a marginalized group of people in a marginalized community; and yet, they encounter the longed for Son of God first hand up close and personal.
How does the collection of ingredients in this narrative combine?
A slice of prophecy, a good handful of history, a garnish of symbolism, all mixed together to form a story upon which our Christmas celebrations are founded.
And what do we get when we mix these ingredients together?
What’s Luke trying to tell us about the birth of God in human history?
Well, it is astonishing really that prophets down the ages and in every tradition point toward a saviour. There is a deep longing in every human culture for leadership grounded in justice and peace; for a leader who can bring about freedom and salvation from oppression. Of course the only reason prophets speak like this is because human cultures have endlessly been tied up in political systems of dominating power and oppression. Wars are raging because human beings seek to protect their land, their power, their influence, their ideologies by way of force. And into this, the prophets speak… there is one coming who will shine light into the darkness as prince of peace.
Christmas is a time to listen to the prophetic voice celebrating the birth of a kind and gentle activist who calls us to build out lives with three simple ingredients:
We all know the call to treat others as we would seek to be treated. How different our world would be if Jesus were truly welcomed into the hearts of all. Another astonishing thing is that God comes directly into human history. We’re not just talking about a transcendent God who is distant watching us from afar. God enters into human history in the life of this little baby. It is by his life and teaching, death and resurrection that history is never the same again.
What then are the ingredients that bring about the birth of the spirit in human living?