Bethlehem, birth, Christmas, Cross Shadow in the stable, death, Easter, Golgotha, Good Friday, Holy Week, Jerusalem, Jospeh, Magi, manger, Mary, Mary Magdalene, Passion, room for God, Shepherds, stable, Thomas, weakness
What do you see when you stop and look at the crib. All the familiar figures are there but what do you see? Will you let your eyes and your heart be drawn deeper?
The busyness of the season can stop us from stopping, staring and really wondering. In some ways the themes of Christmas are almost too important to be explored at Christmas – there are too many distractions to do them justice. In particular the beginning and the end of Jesus’ life are intimately connected – the end can be seen in the beginning. The Passion of our Lord begins with the Passion of His Birth.
He who was born in the virgin’s womb will bring new life from the cold tomb. Out of nothing comes everything. And when we gather to celebrate this birth we know there is no better way than remembering the night he was betrayed and sharing in his body and blood. He is truly born to die but in dying he will give new life to all.
These great events have their own foreshadowing. Elizabeth greets Mary as blessed among women and the child leaps in her woman. In a village in Bethany another woman will kneel and anoint Jesus’ feet in preparation for his burial. Both understand the importance of what is to come.
It is said the victory of the cross was won in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he embraced the Cup of Suffering, but then surely our Salvation was won in Mary’s YES to the Angel. And always there will be the doubters. Joseph doubts the message of the angel and Thomas doubts the possibility of the resurrection.
But doubt is never the full story. Joseph stands by Mary. When Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem it is Thomas who says: Let us go with him that we may die with him. It is faithfulness, not doubt for which both should be remembered.
The mythical donkey on the road to Bethlehem has his counterpart in the donkey that carries Jesus in Jerusalem. Both are journeys to royal cities. Both journeys will lead to rejection. There is no room in the inn and Jesus dies outside the city wall. Jesus is born in the muck of the stable and dies at Golgotha, the rubbish heap of Jerusalem. For all our talk of faith, our synagogues, temples, churches and cathedrals, so often when it matters there is no room for God.
Despite what one apocryphal gospel claims, there would have been Mary’s cries of labour. And at his end there were her cries at the foot of the cross. His life is framed, beginning and end, with the tears of Mary – the first and last sounds he would have heard in his earthly life.
And Manger and Cross are unlikely thrones for the King of the Universe. Both are easily overlooked but both once seen are impossible to forget. He is born a helpless child and dies helpless, nailed to a cross. These are images of utter weakness and vulnerability yet revealing a power the world too often does not recognise, the deep transforming power of love.
Such are these events that heaven cannot contain itself. Angels sing and point shepherds towards the stable. In a tomb angels point away from death to resurrection. Nor can those caught up in the story keep the story to themselves. The shepherds run from the tomb telling of what they have seen. Mary Magdalene runs from the tomb to break the news. Neither shepherds nor Mary M are the obvious heralds for these great acts of salvation but that is the way of God, working in and through the ordinary and the everyday.
The links between these two great birth and death passion narratives, which are of course part of the one great Passion story, are myriad. But the response is always the same – worship. The Magi open their treasures, then kneel and worship. Jesus ascends to heaven and the disciples first response is to worship.
At Christmas there is so much we feel we have to do but the danger is it stops us seeing what really needs to be seen. To truly celebrate Christmas we have to find time to allow ourselves to go deeper, to get caught up in this great Passion story. Christmas is not Christmas unless we find time to stop, to stare, to wonder – to kneel and to worship.