Meditations on the Reality of Christmas: 15. Is that it?
Lk 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
In our search for the reality of that first Christmas, I believe one of the things that hinders us is the fact that we actually have the whole story before in the Gospels and so we lose the sense at any one point of the wonders or questions that confronted this little family, now in Bethlehem.
The baby has been born, the shepherds have come with their excited talk of angels in the sky and the news of this new baby, and then they had gone, and all would have been quiet again. It is the middle of the night and Joseph and Mary and their tiny baby are alone in this stable, alone with their thoughts. We aren’t told about Joseph because it is thought that one of Luke’s sources was Mary and she tells how it had been, Joseph, it is assumed, having died before Jesus’ final years (because there is no mention of him later in the Gospels). But Mary held on to these things and pondered on them.
How amazing it had all been: an angel visit, a miraculous conception, a dream-guided Joseph, a journey south, the arrival of her baby, more angels and the coming and going of shepherd messengers. We obviously don’t know what went through her mind at that point but I think it is fair to suggest that one thought might have been, “Is that it? Can we go back to Nazareth now and just live ordinary lives?” Now you and I know that there are at least three significant events yet to come in this story – going to the temple, the arrival of the wise men and fleeing to Egypt – but this is what I meant about the thing that hinders us in seeking the reality of the day, the fact that we know these things. Mary didn’t. The future was a blank page as far as she and Joseph were concerned.
I don’t know if you have ever thought about this but there are two amazing apparently contradictory things about God that come through in the Bible. The first is that He is a communicator. The fact is He DOES communicate with us. If you look at the story of Abram, for instance, stretched out over the chapters of Genesis, you see God communicating again and again with the father of faith. The second thing is that although God does communicate with us, so much of the time He keeps us in the dark; He does not spell out in detail what is coming. In Abram’s story, we may marvel at the number of times that the Lord speaks with Abram, who became Abraham, but then when we look more closely we realise those times were probably stretched over a period of possibly thirty years and so the reality of the story is that there would have been years passing without a word being said between God and His man.
And so we come to Mary and Joseph. The Lord could have sent an angel, following the departure of the shepherds, to say, “In a week’s time when you go to the temple, I will give you a double encouragement. After that you can settle here and find a house to rent while you wait for my private financiers to arrive, after which you’ll have to go and stay in Egypt for a couple of years, but don’t worry you can come back later and resettle back in Nazareth.” But He didn’t. Why? Perhaps, very simply, He knew these things were going to roll out before this couple anyway, and He trusted them to handle the unknown nature of their future together. I think that is a reasonable hypothesis, although there may be other things as well.
But isn’t that how it is so often with the Lord? We come to Him and find we have a New Testament full of guidance to take on board, and then from time to time there are special occasions when He seems to speak very clearly, but for most of the time it is just a matter of remaining faithful while life rolls out around us. He is there, we can speak to Him and He does speak to us, but mostly it is a matter of living by faith and not by sight. It’s like night and day. Much of the time we walk in the light, but then come periods where all is still and silent, like we are being kept in the dark, and it is in those times that we prove ourselves, that we are truly children of God. Rejoice in your present circumstances, that He is there, whether you are going through a light or darkness period; He is there guarding over you, providing for you, and watching you with pleasure.