October 17, 2010
It feels strange to read the first two chapters of Matthew in mid October. Sure, the ‘Christmas gifts’ (the same stuff that’s been there all year but now have superfluous packaging) are appearing in the shops and very soon you won’t be able to walk down a high street without hearing White Christmas, but no one’s actually going to mention baby Jesus until at least mid December are they really. And it’s a shame, because what a story. What a light it shines for us.
There’s no road to Bethlehem, no manger in Matthew, but the essentials remain. Jesus was born “and they shall call him Emmanuel’ which means ‘God is with us.'” (1:23). I know very little about Orthodox Christianity but I do know that they celebrate the incarnation much more than the traditions I’m familiar with. We seem to focus our hope on the death of Christ, whereas, I think (please correct me if I’m wrong) Orthodox Christians see redemption in God’s coming to Earth. And what a profound blessing that is. He comes as a baby; you can hold God in your arms. What intimacy, what Grace.
And immediately he faces such human challenges. Jesus and his family are forced to flee to Egypt for fear of their lives. Indeed, Matthew devotes a whole chapter to these events; much more than to the pregnancy and birth. He wants us to know about the danger and hardship of the first years of Jesus’ life. This is both comforting and challenging. Comforting because it tells us of the intimacy with which God has experienced human suffering. Challenging because Jesus’ story begins among the outcasts, and it stays there doesn’t it? And so it asks us who have never fled how we will respond to the homeless, to the asylum seeker, to the outcasts everywhere.
That question won’t always be a the forefront of our minds as Christmas commercialism takes over in the next month or so. In fact the slughter of the innocents and the exile to Egypt often gets lost altogether in that no man’s land between Christmas and New Year. But I shall try to remember, that after the wise men’s presents came murders and exile. It’s not all tinsel and trees… But even in the darkness, God is with us.