You’ve all heard the Christmas Story: Mary and Joseph with Jesus in a manger, surrounded by noble shepherds and humble wise-men giving valuable gifts, while animals and angels stand in the background. The scene is so familiar that it’s easy to overlook it in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas Season. Because of this I’d like to offer a few thoughts that might shed new light on the Nativity–and maybe help you gain a new appreciation for it.
To start with, take a moment to think about Mary and Joseph. Think about the reality of their situation. A teenage girl, most likely 15 or so, finds herself pregnant before she is married. The situation is complicated by the fact that her almost-husband isn’t the father. Being a decent guy, he has a moral dilemma about what to do, that’s only resolved by a visit from an angel. Think about how you’d feel in a situation like that. On top of it all, they have to make a long journey–while she’s pregnant–through a hot desert. Then when they get to their destination at last, they have to give birth to their baby in a cave, surrounded by animals– a cave that’s probably filled with the smell of dung. All this not only grounds the story and makes it feel more relevant–it also gives us an appreciation for the sacrifices these two people made to play their part in God’s plan of salvation.
About the shepherds and wise-men, we tend to have a somewhat romanticized view of them. Shepherds in those days weren’t considered noble, heart-filled country boys, but were rather assumed to be liars and thieves. In fact their testimony in court was considered invalid. It was a saying among scholars of the time that what the tax-collector is in the city, the shepherd is in the countryside. We all know tax collectors don’t exactly win popularity contests, then or now. As for the wise-men, they weren’t kings like the song says, but were very likely magi, that is, sorcerers, participating in the black arts. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh they gave Jesus were actually ingredients used in their spell-casting. It’s likely these gestures were symbolic of their surrendering their former way of life to serve God. All of this shows even more how God came first and foremost for the outcasts and those who are looked-down on.
If you find any of thoughts interesting and want to learn more, check out the works of Dr. Scott Hahn. Hopefully, that will give you a new insight into the Christmas story, as we make our way through Advent and the Christmas season. May God bless you, and have a very Merry Christmas!