Group reflection: The Christmas story

Christmas Eve, and a group of people met in a carpark (thanks, COVID). Some are founding members of the congregation; others, first-timers visiting for Christmas. Some have been Christians all their lives; others are atheists who have never been in a church before. Together, we heard the stories of Christmas (Luke 1:26-2:20; Matthew 2:3-12) and reflected on how and for whom this story is good news, as follows …

Part 1: An angel tells an unmarried girl she will bear a child, who will be a king in David’s line.

Unlike contemporaneous Greek and Roman myths, this god does not pursue and rape the woman against her will. Instead, she receives news that she will bear a child – there is no rape – and she assents: ‘Here I am … Let it be according to your will.’ In those days, being born to an unmarried mother made someone scum of the earth, lower than a slave in what was an intensely hierarchical society. The idea of a king being born to an unmarried mother was unimaginable. How and for whom, then, is this story of conception good news?

  • For slaves, for scum, for people who aren’t respected or who are looked down on by the wider culture
  • For women, since it suggests the idea of consent
  • For anyone who wants the current systems of power and domination disrupted

Part 2: The baby is born in Bethlehem.

Bethlehem was the city of King David, Israel’s most beloved king, and of whom it was said a ruler would one day emerge from among his descendants. Bethlehem means ‘city of bread’, and upon being born, the baby Jesus is placed into a feeding trough. It points to the man who feeds thousands on a hillside, who offers himself in bread and wine to his followers, and who is harshly criticized for eating with all sorts of people. How and for whom, then, is this story good news?

  • For anyone who wants a new type of ruler who doesn’t dominate
  • For anyone who wants system change, a new way
  • For anyone who is physically hungry – people who are poor
  • For anyone who is shunned from, or never invited to, other people’s tables
  • For anyone who is lonely

Part 3: Angels tell shepherds of the birth.

Shepherds were rough, tough and dangerous to know. Religious people avoided them, and they weren’t allowed to participate in religious life. So how and for whom is this announcement good news?

  • For those largely excluded from religious life and gatherings – nowadays, often LGBTI+ people, people with autism, and other people who don’t easily fit or who aren’t easily accepted into many churches
  • For lower class people

Part 4: Foreign numerologists discern and announce the birth of this king.

They are not Jewish, nor is there any hint they become Jewish – and ‘Christianity’ didn’t exist yet. Imagine Iranian Muslims or traditional elders or Wicca women receive and share news about Jesus … and don’t convert to Christianity. What does this suggest? How and for whom is this good news?

  • We (Christians) don’t have a monopoly on the truth
  • We can’t control God’s narrative
  • This baby is born for EVERYONE – all peoples everywhere, within or without formal faith boundaries
  • Someone observed that, at the end John’s gospel, the disciples catch 153 fish – one for each nation of the known world (at that time). Again, the hint is that this story is for all peoples, and all nations.

Conclusion: Foreign numerologists are told to go home a different way.

Is tonight’s story good news for you? How? Do you need to be traveling a different way?

  • People filled out gift tags addressing these two questions, to take home and reflect on further. Responses were private, but a couple people shared …
  • This is good news because it disrupts the usual narratives of power, authority and success. The challenge for white middle class people is to hold onto this, and not just fall into upholding the usual structures in everyday life but instead allow our own lives (choices, politics, spending habits, friendship patterns) to be disrupted.
  • Athol Gill (an Australian theologian) once said, ‘For the rich, the gospel is bad news before it is good news.’ — There’s always a challenge for the rich in the gospel
  • Someone else commented that they had never really fit in anywhere – but this story clearly has plenty of room for outsiders and other people who don’t really fit. – AMEN!

A conversation about Luke 1:26-2:20 and Matthew 2:3-11) at Sanctuary, 24 December (Christmas Eve) © Sanctuary 2020. Image credit: Jon Tyson on Unsplash.

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