The tradition of Christmas biblically comes from combining material from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
They both suggest that the incarnation, God’s coming into the world through Jesus, happened not at his baptism like Mark seems to suggest, but in his first moments of life in this world. They both then tell a story of the birth of Jesus, where God is preparing to bring this new light into the world. While the stories differ in details, we can see the shared meaning to be found. Both have Jesus of humble and yet miraculous beginnings. Both have angel announcements (which is God’s intervention), and both have righteous and faithful people who say yes to God. In both stories, Jesus’ birth goes unnoticed by the people who should know: rulers, religious leaders, and others in power. Instead, it is small groups of outsiders who see, hear and rejoice: the foreign magi of Matthew and the lowly shepherds in Luke. Those on the fringe are the ones who notice, and once again, God surprises the conventional wisdom of the world.
Christmas is sacred to us because it tells the true story: it insists that God, so long ago, was active in saving the world at a time of little hope, and that it is through ordinary people, like you and me, that God works.
Even today, God continues to work in this way:
Episcopal priest Ed Bacon tells a story (in Via Media) about traveling in the Holy Land, and how he was really despairing over the reality of the brokenness found there.
Ed then continued on to South Africa, and met a man who had been the mayor of Cape Town. He asked Ed where he had been on his trip, and Ed said he had just come from the Holy Land.
“What did you find there?” he asked.
Ed said, “An awful lot of despair.”
The man said, “There’s never any reason for despair.”
Ed said, “What???!!!”
The man said, “I was the mayor of South Africa during its bleakest days. And, I didn’t know, and we weren’t aware, that God was working with a man in a jail cell...(his name was Nelson Mandela)...and that, one day, he would be released and he would be the breath of hope for our country. God is working with someone right now to help bring light and rejoicing to the Holy Land. There’s never any reason for despair.”
In the tradition of the Christmas story, God is working with people throughout the world right now...readying them to make their offering of hope to the world. Perhaps, God might even be working through you.
At the very least, God is calling you to hope for and witness to what God is doing. When you see the Spirit at work, say something. When you hear the love of God proclaimed, rejoice in it. When you see Jesus’ love for neighbors lived out, give thanks to those doing so.
Seek out the surprising way that God is working in the world, and then share what you hear and see with others.