The scene was a familiar one. A street filled with festive lights and decorations, music playing and crowds of people moving along, taking note of all the Christmas details.
You know, I sometimes wonder whether it is easy for us to miss the quiet heart of Christmas.
Even when we are looking at some of the Christmas story, we may miss the central message of it all. Each of the gospel writers presents Christmas in a different way. Some might say that only Matthew and Luke include the Christmas story, but I want to suggest to you that each of the gospels brings its own special emphasis.
Mark – possibly the oldest of the gospels does not have any birth or infancy stories. Instead, Mark’s Christmas is embedded in the opening words, Jesus is shown to be Son of God from the very beginning, that’s the good news:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1)
John also does not contain birth or infancy stories, but shows the centre of the Christmas originating in the heart of God:
‘The word became flesh, and dwelt among us – full of grace and truth.’ (John 1:14)
Matthew opens with a long list of names in Jesus’ family tree. It’s easy to skip over this and miss its significance. Included in it are five women who all showed remarkable faith, despite that society may have judged them harshly: Tamar, who tricked her father-in-law into pregnancy; Rahab, a prostitute who helped the Israelite spies; Ruth, a despised foreigner; Bathsheba, an adulteress, and Mary, an unmarried mother. Each were part of Jesus’ family history.
If Jesus will later be shown to identify with sinners because it’s in his family tree, Jesus is connected with people just like us. Matthew then makes the connection with Jesus being Immanuel, God with us, in our humanness. All of this happens before, the traditional Christmas characters – the Wise Men – even appear. They come to find the one born to be King.
Luke’s gospel has angels announcing that Jesus is the Saviour, the Christ, the Lord. This is not given to the people who you might expect, but rather to shepherds, often considered to be religious outcasts because of the nature of their work:
‘And there were shepherd living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.’ (Luke 2:8)
For such as these, living on the margins of society, Jesus comes as Saviour.
Each of the gospels presents a different view of Christmas. It’s easy for us to become so engaged with the trappings of the Christmas story which are not even mentioned in any of the gospels and we can sometimes miss the quiet heart of Christmas as related in Scripture.
With all the other things that happen at this time of the year, may we focus our hearts and minds on the quiet heart of Christmas: the reality of who Jesus is, the Son of God. The eternal Word made flesh. With the songwriter, we say: ‘O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel’.
May God bless you at this Christmas time and throughout the coming year.