Imagine that you are standing out in your driveway, marvelling at the fact that it’s the third Sunday of Advent, and tomorrow they are projecting a high of 11.  

In your imagination, you do not live in Alberta.  

Suddenly, a UFO lands in the middle of your front lawn, and the door slowly opens. An alien comes down the staircase, comes over, and greets you as you chat about the state of the universe—the alien questions you about all the coloured lights that he saw as his ship was landing. 

You tell him those are Christmas lights, and then he wants to know what Christmas is all about.  So, you begin by telling him that culturally, in Canada, we believe that Christmas revolves around the visit of a fat man in a red suit.

You tell him that there is a man named “Santa Claus” who lives at the North Pole, which happens to be one of the most inhospitable spots in the world. 

At the North Pole, Santa has an operation that involves a veritable army of elves who spend the year fashioning toys for children, apparently without pay. 

On Christmas Eve, Santa loads enough toys for all the children in the world into a magic sleigh, which is pulled by a team of flying reindeer, the lead of which has a red nose that glows like a flashlight.

Upon command, the reindeer take off, towing the sleigh into the air, and Santa Claus circles the globe, landing on the roofs of children’s homes.  Once he lands on these roofs, he proceeds to slide down the chimney, where he places toys underneath a decorated tree, consumes a glass of milk, eats a cookie and returns up the chimney to his sleigh and resumes his trip around the world until toys have been delivered to all the good little boys and girls. 

Before you can tell him about the 8 white kangaroos that pull the sleigh for the trip over Australia, you notice that your new friend is displaying a look of consternation.  And he says, “Hey give me a break. Do you think I just fell off the turnip rocket?  What is Christmas really all about?”

So, you start again: OK, the true story of Christmas starts 2000 years ago when an angel visited a young woman in Israel, which is a country on the other side of the world. 

The Angel tells this young girl, named Mary, that she will become pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit, even though she is still a virgin and has never been with a man.

The same angel then appears to Mary’s fiancé, a man named Joseph, and assures him that Mary has not been unfaithful despite evidence to the contrary.  That Angel confirms Mary’s story as to who the father will be, God.

Before the Baby is born, Mary and Joseph are required by a governmental order to return to the town of Joseph’s ancestors, thereby fulfilling a prophecy that had been made hundreds of years before.   

Once they arrive in the town of Bethlehem, Joseph and his extremely pregnant wife are unable to find accommodations, so they end up spending the night in a stable full of animals.  During the night, Mary goes into labour and has the child in the stable where he is laid in a manger to sleep.

You notice your new friend’s eyes getting larger and larger, and so you rush to finish the story.   You tell him how a host of angels, that would be a lot of angels, appear to shepherds who are tending their sheep in a nearby field and tell them the son of God has been born in a stable. 

After receiving directions, the shepherds rush off to worship this child.

Meanwhile, a number of wise men from a far-off land arrive on the scene bearing three gifts for the newborn child. 

The wise men tell the family that they have been following a star for months and that it has finally come to rest over the town of Bethlehem. 

However, on their way to Bethlehem, the Wise Men encountered the local governor and informed him of their mission and how they were seeking one who would become the king of the Jews.  In a fit of jealousy, the Governor ordered all the children in the village under the age of two murdered. Mary and Joseph, however, were able to escape after being warned of the governor’s plans by yet another angel.

At that point, the Alien interrupts you and says, “You know you don’t have to be rude. If you don’t want to tell me about Christmas, that’s fine, but stop making up these absurd stories.

To be truthful, the one about the fat guy in the red suit with the flying reindeer was a lot more believable than the story about a virgin having a baby in a stable.” He then stalks away, climbs back into his spaceship and flies away, leaving you wondering about his statement.

And then you realize that he’s probably right. We’ve heard the Christmas story for years, hearing them sing in shopping malls and on the radio, “Angels from the Realms of glory,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem and “Away in a Manger” until it seems like; yes that could happen.

As a result, a miraculous encounter between God and humanity becomes just another story of an everyday event. 

The miraculous becomes mundane, and the extraordinary becomes ordinary.

A number of years ago, I purchased a video called The Cotton Patch Gospel. It was a musical based on the book of the same name written by Clarence Jordan. 

The music and lyrics were written by Harry Chapin, and it opened in October 1981, shortly after Chapin’s death.

It is a retelling of Matthew’s Gospel, set in rural Georgia.  

When I first watched it and saw the Christmas story in a different manner, I thought, “My, that is bizarre.” 

Let’s see what you think.  (Clip from “Cotton Patch Gospel”)

Did that seem strange to you?  When it stops being told in the same old way, it doesn’t seem like an ordinary event anymore.

So why did Jesus have to be born that way?  I mean, nothing like that happened with the birth of Mohammed or Buddha.  Moses’ birth was downright boring by comparison, so why is the Christmas story so wonderfully strange?  Let’s take a look at what makes it so miraculous.

The Virgin Birth Probably, if there is one element of the Christmas story that people have the most problems with, it is the virgin birth.  There are even churches, churches that claim to be Christian churches, who say this never happened, that it was just made up.  Makes me wonder, if they don’t believe in the essentials, why do they bother calling themselves churches? Hmmm, enquiring minds want to know.

The virgin birth plays an important part in both accounts of the Christmas story, you remember the scripture that was read earlier Matthew 1:18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Luke tells us the same story in Luke 1:26–28 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David.  Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Greetings, favoured woman! The Lord is with you!”

And if there was any doubt when the angel told Mary she was going to have a baby, listen to what Mary says Luke 1:34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

As a matter of fact, hundreds of years before Mary had been born, the Prophet Isaiah made this statement Isaiah 7:14 All right then, the Lord himself will give you the sign. Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).

We are talking about God coming to earth.  How should he come?  The same way that you and me and Genghis Khan and Adolph Hitler were conceived and born? The prophet said that God would choose a sign, and he did, and he stepped outside the boundary of natural laws that say that in the act of conception, a male and a female would each contribute a cell which would become a new person.  Instead, God did what had never happened before and has not happened since, and that is, He produced a child with only one cell. 

You read in the papers about same-sex parents; they might be parents to the child, but they didn’t make the child.  It doesn’t happen that way.  It takes ingredients from a boy and a girl to make a baby.

And so, believe it or not, a virgin gave birth, as strange as that may seem, and the child’s name was Jesus. So maybe that isn’t so absurd after all.

Angels and Shepherds: The next thing that seems a little out there are the angels appearing to the shepherds. Luke 2:8–11 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.  Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,  but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Saviour—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!

 To us, there is little significance in the shepherds.  And yet, in the time of Christ, they were the despised ones.  The religious elite snubbed them and considered them second-class citizens. 

You see, no matter how much they loved God, the demands of the flock were too demanding for the shepherds to obey all the ceremonial aspects of the law, such as hand washing.  And so to those who found it so difficult to keep the law came the announcement of the one who would save them by grace. 

And maybe they were special shepherds. We’re told that just outside of Bethlehem, there was a very special flock of sheep. A flock of perfect sheep, sheep without spot or blemish, that were used in the daily sacrifice at the temple. Because these sacrificial lambs were so important to the religious life of the Jews, they were given the very best of everything. 

And so maybe it was to those who nurtured the sacrificial lambs that the Angels came bringing the good news of the great sacrifice, and that was Jesus.  But really, the sheep don’t matter. It was to the shepherds that the Angels came, and in vs. 10-11-12, they were told the story of the baby who was born in a manger.

In those early days, historians tell us that it was customary that when a male child was born local musicians would gather at the home and greet the new son with simple music. 

Unless, of course, you were the son of a poor couple far from home and you were born in a barn.  But in its place, the heavenly Father provided a choir of Angels to serenade his son. So maybe that wasn’t so absurd after all.

And then there were the Wise Men.   Matthew 2:1–2 Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

What symbolizes Christmas more than the picture of the Magi kneeling in adoration before the newborn messiah?  Across the desert sand, they had come, mile after mile following but a promise of a distant start.  I wonder if as they packed their camels in Persia if their family, friends and neighbours thought of them as wise men?

“So, guys, where’re you going?” 

“That way.”

“Oh, and what is your final destination?”

“Don’t know.”

“How will you know when you get there?”

“The star will stop”

“Well, who are you going to see?”

“A baby”

“Uhhhh, and what’s the baby’s name?”

“Wonderful, counsellor, prince of peace, Everlasting father.”

“You know Bob, I do believe that the boys have been out in the sun way too long.”

And yet the Magi of the East made their pilgrimage across the sea of sand to the little town of Bethlehem to worship at the cradle of Christ.  We know very little about the Magi, but we do know that they were from the country of Persia, which is now Iran.  Let’s pull down one of our trusty maps.

And we know that the Magi were originally from a tribe of Medes who tried to overthrow the King.  When their little coup failed, they put their political aspirations behind them and chose safer work as holy men, priests and teachers of Kings.   It was from this occupation that we discovered that Magi is the root word of Magic.  Now, we don’t know why the sign came to these specific men; maybe it was there for everyone, but only these few chose to follow. 

Regardless of the reason, it was the Magi who followed the star to visit the Christ child, and maybe it was simply to signify that Christianity would ultimately be for the gentile as well as the Jew. Because even though Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah, we are told that there was this sense of expectancy over the entire area of the world concerning the coming Messiah of the Jews. 

The belief was summed up by the Roman Historian Suetonius when he wrote, “There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief, that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judea to rule the world.”

And so, it’s fitting, is it not that the one who would save the world’s birth was announced not only to the people of Israel but to the greater world as well?  So perhaps the Wisemen’s presence at the first Christmas wasn’t so absurd after all.

The greatest event in human history has to be when God came to dwell amongst us. And how should that have happened?  Should it have been an everyday event that no one noticed? Or should there have been some element of wonder attached to it?  I know that there are people who deny the events of the first Christmas because they can’t believe that things like that could happen and perhaps that’s why the Bible says 1 Corinthians 1:18 The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

Perhaps we could change that just a bit to read 1 Corinthians 1:18 The message of Christmas is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.

So, where are you at today?

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