Fr Harry's thought for the week - 2 January
As we celebrate Christmas, let us consider for a moment some of the details of the Christmas story. For it is an extraordinary story by any standards.
The Christmas story is a curious mix of the earthly and the heavenly; the natural and supernatural. The places in the story and the characters are also an odd mix. We have the human and the heavenly - the angels and the human players in the story. There is the aristocratic and intellectual as represented by the kings or magi; and the peasant or working man as represented by the shepherds. There is the king's palace where the magi go to enquire of King Herod where the king of the Jews is to the born; and there is the stable where the child is actually born. There are all sorts of interesting contrasts and parallels.
It is as though heaven and earth are in conspiracy to point to who this child is. The star, the unusual star which appears over Bethlehem, is itself a sign, the very heavens themselves pointing to the heavenly origin of this child. Then there are the angelic hosts who greet the birth of the one whom they recognize as having a heavenly origin; the one who is, as St. John describes him, the divine Logos, the Word or Reason of God himself.
Then there are the magi who seek him in the king's palace in Jerusalem. They are aware that it is a king, a royal person they are seeking. And here is a deliberate irony which runs all through the gospel story - true royalty is to be found in humble service. Then there are the gifts that the magi bring: the gold which is a symbol of royalty; incense which is a symbol of priesthood; and the precious ointment which is a symbol of death and of healing. There are the shepherds abiding in the fields looking after their flocks. They go to worship at the manger, recognising a kindred spirit in the one who proclaims himself as the Good Shepherd.
Then there is the central part played by Joseph and Mary. Though, as St. John tells us, Jesus is the divine Logos, the Word or Reason of God himself, he is no god simply disguised as a a human being a heavenly visitor. That is heresy. Jesus, like us, is born of flesh and blood, born of the flesh and blood of his mother Mary. Nor could he have been born without her human co-operation and obedience. "Be it unto me according to thy word." was her response, which is why she has always held the highest place of honour in Christ's Church. Nor could he have fulfilled his divine destiny without the tender love and care of Joseph who rescued him from Herod's cruel clutches and brought him up to maturity in that home in Nazareth.
There is is so much in the Christmas story, that we could go on looking at it for hours. It is that curious mix of the earthly and heavenly, the human and the divine, the natural and the supernatural; the ordinary and the extraordinary. And although it has that fair tale quality about it, it actually speaks of life as it really is. For we too are that same curious mix of the natural and the supernatural, the human and divine, the earthly and the heavenly, the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Born on earth we are destined for heaven. Born of human parents we are made in the image and likeness of God whose children we are. Living earthbound lives we have the ability to recognize the heavenly, the divine, the supernatural. If the Christmas story is a magic, thrilling tale, so is our story. For in our story, in our own lives we are intended to mirror the story of the divine son of God who took our nature upon him, as at this time, so that we, through him, might be like him, and be taken with him into heaven.
The Christmas story, then, is not some quaint fairy tale from antiquity. It is a true story and a story in which we also have a part to play as we say with Mary, "Be it unto me according to thy word;" as with the shepherds we come to offer worship to the child and make known the good news of great joy that has been given to us; as with the magi we offer our gifts at his feet; and as with the angelic host we offer songs of praise, singing "Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth."