By Kass Unger
Did you know that in first century, Ancient Near Eastern culture it was not uncommon for a child to be born and hailed as a saviour? However, in order to use the title ‘Son of God’, these stories required angel visits and virgin births. Stars lit up the sky on numerous occasions. Even the very name ‘Jesus’ was common; the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, meaning “God has Saved”. ‘Jesus son of Joseph’, ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ are all used as identifiers to specify exactly which Jesus is being referred to. It is the equivalent of ‘you know tall Joshua, the one with the brown eyes and long beard, assuming he hasn’t cut it? Not the one with the two sisters. Yeah, the one with the really bad sandal tan. Well, the other day he said…”
All of the gospels are written in hindsight, a fair time after Jesus death, looking back and recording memories of the important moments. For two of those gospels the actual birth of Jesus does not get a mention, it was that insignificant. In Matthew, the focus is primarily on Joseph not “kicking Mary to the curb” when he finds out about her predicament and then the wise men’s journey, while Luke highlights Mary’s joy and anticipation and the angel’s visit to the shepherds… and sheep (as Cecil would tell it).
The significance of Christmas and Jesus is not that a baby was supposably born in a manger, cause there was no room in the inn, or that his parents believed an angel or that there were cute little sheep that came to visit, none of these were the reason why Jesus was called the ‘Son of God’. This story of his birth has been turned into a lovely, child friendly, Sunday afternoon special. In all honesty, that baby would have been a relatively normal baby, it would have spat up, screamed, woke to feed throughout the night and pooped its pants. His birth was really not that significant, but rather what he did with his life was.
When a baby was born in New Zealand, few Australians cared, but when that Australian raised star won an Academy Award many more were excited by that “Australian’s” achievement, Russell Crowe. The same goes for Australia’s favourite racehorse, Phar Lap, born in a little New Zealand town. It is not the birth that makes the significance, but rather what became of the life. And for Jesus, that life fills all four of the Gospels.
Jesus took the Hebrew Scriptures and radically taught a message of God’s love and acceptance for all he encountered. He healed, performed miracles and chastised people. He challenged leadership and the status quo, refusing to accept hypocrisy, oppression and injustice and he inspired a wave of people to do like wise, to refuse to stand by injustice and to express the love of God in the ways he taught.
The significance of the baby is the man that he became. Therefore, when we celebrate Christmas and see images of that baby in his manger what we are looking at is hope. At that point in the story there is so much hope and potential that resides within that child and what will come from that child’s life.
One of my favourite parts about Christmas are the stories of joy, self-sacrifice and goodwill that come to attention. Of people in amongst the craziness, thinking of others in need. There are millions of people that donate time or money to different charities, there are presents, care packages and hampers that are put together for those in need. There is visiting that takes place between neighbours as they visit Christmas lights or local parades and carols. There is an intentional pause at the conclusion of the year’s events to wish friends and acquaintances a Merry Christmas. And although these things might also happen throughout the year, people seem to make a special effort at Christmas.
Last week at one of these gatherings, where the youth and young adults meet here, for the WPH youth break up Christmas party. Whilst sharing in conversation we painted some canvases. The down fall to this plan was the sheer lack of talent or confidence, that most of us possessed to creativity in a painting on canvas medium. While we chatted, covering a little of what Christmas meant to us it quickly became clear that there may be a gap between what Christmas meant and what we were physically able to communicate through paint. Hence, there are a lot of stars. But to me that is perfectly fine. Stars speak of hope. That at the end of their long journey those travellers would find a baby, a baby that would live up to the name ‘Son of God’.
We are all here today because of the whole life of Jesus, not just his birth in a manger, but what he taught and stood for, and it is important to remember that at this time of year. It can be hard enough to remember the birth of Christ at this time with all the shopping, present buying, cooking, cleaning, stress over so many people being in one place and them all getting along, the limited time line, which keeps getting shorter, possible holidays and ensuring safe and happy traveling. But we need to remember not just the little baby that is full of potential, but the man, what he came to represent and teach. We need to remember to share that same radical unconditional love with everyone we come upon this season.
That is my pray for you this Christmas, that you will seek out opportunities to share the love of God with everyone you can. May your Christmas be filled with Joy, Hope, Love and Peace. Amen.