Saturday, December 23, 2017

A child is born 23: The birth of Jesus

Mary gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The story of the birth of Jesus – the last birth story in the Bible – is also its most familiar. Only Luke records the actual birth. Matthew simply tells us that “after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came” (Matthew 2.1). He doesn’t say how long after – it may have been anything up to two years later – and he says nothing about the birth itself.

We don’t know how much, if any, historical fact there is in either Luke or Matthew’s stories (they are quite different, and cannot easily be mashed together, though this doesn’t stop us trying to!). Both Luke and Matthew, however, set the birth in Bethlehem, and make the point that Jesus is born to an ordinary, perhaps quite poor family – there is no room for them at the inn. Both their stories stress that Jesus is born against a backdrop of danger. Matthew has Herod try to find and kill Jesus. Luke tells of them being forced by a census to make a risky journey to a place where they have nowhere to stay. Both Gospels use the birth stories as ways to introduce the kind of themes they will dwell on in their stories of the adult Jesus. This is God’s son. In him, God comes to dwell with us, not choosing a life of wealth and power, but the vulnerability of a child, born in a world that is hostile to vulnerability then, just as it is now. Throughout his life he will identify with the vulnerable and marginalised, and his life will culminate in the ultimate vulnerability of death on a cross.

·         What is your earliest memory of hearing the Christmas story? Who told it to you first? Can you remember what you thought and felt about it?

·         As you read the story, be aware of what in it feels like good news to you today?

·         Pray for children born in poverty today, for whom there is “no room at the inn.”

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