A long, long time ago, in a land far, far away, supernatural angel-creatures appeared to people, giant new stars appeared in the night sky, and magical things happened. It’s quite a story.
A teenager gets pregnant. No big miracle there. Except she claims she’s never had sex. Okay, honey, we know you’re embarrassed about this little slip-up before your marriage ceremonies have gone ahead, but virgins don’t have babies. And, well, her Aunt Elizabeth, frankly, must have been miscounting birthdays, because 60-year-old women don’t have babies either. Clearly, this family can’t be trusted with their versions of events.
Yet, their story has lived on through the centuries. A story that seems more fantasy than reality. We have pinned our whole faith system on this story.
Away. Far away. This story seems to be so far removed from the reality of our lives, of our generation. Not only did it take place thousands of years ago, it happened on the other side of the world to strangers with whom we have trouble relating. And I don’t mean that in a cultural sense, although that’s certainly a factor.
Those of us in North America living in 2020 cannot relate to the young couple; the girl in her last month of pregnancy with no birth plan, having to travel 90 miles by donkey to be part of a census that would take five minutes using computer technology in our world. They didn’t even have the foresight to have booked a hotel room in advance of their journey. This results in frantic knocking on doors as Joseph tries to find a bed for his young pregnant wife who has to be scared out of her mind. The first pangs of labor were likely ripping into her before she made it to her birthing room.
Instead of a sterile room with a collection of nurses, resident doctors, and interns, she’s directed to lie down on the ground surrounded by animal sounds and the stench of their excrements. Each big breath she took as she birthed her son was far worse than spending a few minutes in an outhouse while camping. We can only hope that Joseph was able to at least wrangle up a bowl of water from the landowner so she could wash herself and her baby before a bunch of strangers showed up, claiming to have followed a mystical star, after speaking to a host of angels.
We couldn’t be further removed from this story. While current-day teens sometimes get pregnant, this always follows sexual activity. And the majority of people wait until they are nearly thirty before marrying and planning to have children. The births of these babies are planned to the hour, and Mommies are given drugs so they don’t have to feel the pain of labor. It’s no wonder we have trouble relating to these long-ago Bethlehem events!
We continue reading the story of this child. He grows up and becomes a missionary. He spends his adult-life wandering from village to village with a crowd of people following him wherever he goes. He talks about God, his true Father, and invites everyone to join his Kingdom. He heals people and forgives them for wrongdoings.
His mother watches in awe. She knew her baby was special, conceived and born in the way that he was, but to see her man-child perform must have taken her breath away. Talk about proud-Mama-moments.
As she witnesses the angry stirrings of the religious leaders, though, she realizes that her son’s life is in danger. And he doesn’t even seem to care. He continues with his preaching and telling his stories, even when he knows he’s goading them and making things worse. She must have lived with a permanent ache in her chest as she wondered how this would all end. It likely hurt a little that he was so independent, not needing her nearly as much as her other children. All she could do was watch and pray for him. But the fear in her heart only grew with each passing day. This was not going to end well.
A mother knows.
She was likely around my age (fiftyish) as she watched her firstborn son suffer and then die in the cruelest of deaths. No mother should have to lose their child, but this was the most heart-wrenching mother-pain in history. Can you even imagine the mourning? The agony of losing her baby this way? Watching the life drain out of him slowly, one torturous minute at a time.
And then the story takes another fantastical turn. Her son is suddenly alive again. The news is almost too good to believe. This emotional rollercoaster is exhausting. Her son was dead and now he lives again. How can this be? Yet, nothing about this story is normal. Many of the strange things he had said in his teachings were now making sense.
While her heart was flying again with joy and happiness, she must have felt a separation. She had still lost him. Like a mother who lives separately from her child’s dad, she had to accept that he was now spending more time with his Father and less time with her. The worst was behind her; the excruciating pain of loss. But she was losing him again. He would go live with his Father permanently, and she would not see him again, not even on weekends or holidays. And while in his teachings he promised to come again, she knew in her heart that this promise wasn’t for her. When he ascended into Heaven, her son would be only a presence in her heart.
As the days passed; after all these events were over and he was gone, Mary must have realized that her son lived on in many hearts. Her friends, her neighbors, strangers who had interacted with him; they all lived with hope and still worshipped and prayed to him, professing to love him. His followers continued to preach about him and encouraged others to believe in his saving grace.
The Savior of the world; the promised one is now in Heaven. Far away. Unreachable by human means. As we studied space in my Kindergarten class this fall, the vastness and wonder of our solar system and the recognition of other solar systems was mind-boggling. Yet, Jesus and his Father reign over all of that. But from away. Again, this part of the story can feel removed from our sphere of existence.
How do we bridge this gap? How do we feel near to Jesus, to God, when they are so far removed from us? So far away?
That bridge is built with faith, hope and love.
We accept this story with faith, believing that Jesus is God’s Son. That God sent his son so that we would be forgiven for all the wrong things we’ve ever done, and we can have a personal relationship with him. That huge God who governs the universe cares about me. That requires faith; to believe in something I can’t see; something so ‘away’.
But in the implementation of the faith comes hope. I have hope in the day-to-day; that Jesus lives in my heart and loves me; that he guides my life and takes care of me. I have hope in the future; that when my life ends here on Earth, he will take me to another home, a Heavenly one.
And love? It’s the theme of this whole story. God sent his son in love. Mary loved her son. We love her son. He loves us.
Christmas is about love. We give in love. We receive in love. We spend time with those we love (even if it’s only virtually).
Let’s not lose sight of this part of the story during the Christmas season. Let love make this incredible story more real to you.
Bridge the gap and enter the story with faith, hope and love.
Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.1 Corinthians 13:13