The Nativity Story, tweaked by us for inclusivity
as told in the Book of Luke
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a person cohabiting with another person, who we shall refer to as J. The person’s name, for the purposes of this story was M. And the Angel came to M and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! God is with you.’ But M was much perplexed by their words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to M, ‘Do not be afraid, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will become the parent of a child, and you will name them Jesus. They will be great, and will be called a Child of God and they will be an emissary of God. They will come to always be a beacon and reminder that God’s love can come into the world.’ M said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I have so many doubts about my faith in God?’ The angel said to M, ‘The Holy Spirit will reassure you and empower you, and the love of God will fill you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; they will truly be called a Child of God.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. All went to their own towns to be registered. J and M went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city called Bethlehem, because they were both descended from ancestors who lived in that city. They went to be registered together, and while they were there, they became the parents of the child whose arrival the Angel Gabriel foretold. They wrapped the child in bands of cloth, and laid them in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of God stood before them, and the glory of the God shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for I bring you good news of great joy for all the people: to you this day in Bethlehem has arrived a Bringer of Light, whose coming has been promised and foretold in ancient prophecy. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God everywhere, and peace to all upon the Earth!’
When the angels had left them, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the angel of God has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found M and J, with the child lying in the manger.
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depths of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.
Here we are. We made it. It’s here - Christmas day - in the most challenging of times collectively many of us have ever known. We gather here to retell the Christmas story, which has been a source of so much wonder in all the generations that came before us. This story, which has evolved in our imaginations over so many centuries, and has been told in so many ways, re-written and given so many interpretations. Who do we relate to most in the Christmas story? Would you be one of the Magi, approaching the stable with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh? Would you be the donkey carrying Mary or one of the other animals unexpectedly having to share their stable with some unannounced humans and the odd angel. Would you be the inn-keeper telling the Holy Family that there was no room at the inn?
Ok, so this is a very light hearted summary of the Christmas story, but that said we all have our own Christmas story to tell, and some gospel to proclaim. What part of the Christmas story relates to your own story? Where do we see ourselves in this ancient tale?
We too may have our our tales of survival to tell. Of loss, of fear, of displacement, migration, isolation, rejection, disavowal, trust and doubt. We all know only too well the trials of this past year. Where has our Bethlehem been this year? Where has the place been, literal or figurative, where we’ve had to move to? Where has our stable been, where we’ve uncomfortably had to lay our heads, when we couldn’t stay at the posh hotel we were expecting. Where have we been challenged to bring the light of God into the world amidst dirt, discomfort and squallor? When have we known the harsh dread reality of the shepherds watching their flocks at the terrific appearance of the thronging Heavenly Host? Do we imagine ourselves there on that hilltop when we sing “While shepherds watched their flocks by night?” What unexpected news have we received this year where we’ve faced a choice to run away and hide, or to walk ahead and trust?
Take a moment to remember a time in 2020 when you took up God’s mantel and have been an emissary of light in this world, amidst the tribulations we’ve all collectively faced. What gave you the nudge to be that bringer of light, even if it was only in a small way? How has the purpose of God been working its way through you this year, and feeding into the greater presence of God’s love in the world?
We hear his Gospel tell that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. We get an idea here of ‘the word of God’ as being elemental. Fundamental. The foundation upon which all life is built and though which all life comes into being. We are reminded here of not only the power of myth and story, but also of its importance. This re-creation story of the Nativity, of the light of God, the love of God, the word of God re-entering the world. Each year we hear this story again, and we remember its elementary nature. The nuclear family, literally left out in the elements. How have we gleaned the ancient narrative through the new and ever-evolving narrative of this year? How has the elemental Word of God been spoken through us, to bring light to all that has gone on, to discern God’s golden path through all the uncertainty and suffering? Have you been given the grace this year to see the strong wood of God amidst the dense forest of looming trees?
Knowing all we know of the story written and told so many times over, what does it mean now that these past months have brought us to this point, together again, here at this chapel? What can we see with new eyes as we look with gratitude in the holy light of this day. As we settle into the reality of our own stables to celebrate the rebirth of light, do we find it in our hearts to be thankful that we have arrived here? As we journeyed through the past months what star have we been following? Have we walked the path less travelled, the one it seems is so seldom traversed? The path of trust, walking in the footsteps of God?
When we tell of our journeys and wanderings, what discoveries come to mind? What have been the colours of your journey this year? Where does the story of this year exist in your imagination? What has been your truth? And how do we hold each other’s stories in sacred hospitality?
Here are some more questions to ponder. What is this Christmas for you? What does it really mean? How has the Christmas story changed for you this year? What are the best of its gifts? What are the riches you have to share? What will the new year bring when you are ready to greet it?
I can’t say with assurance as the Angel said in Luke’s gospel, ‘fear not’. Nor can I say with such assurance that all will be well. Because I don’t know. What I am able to say is with hope, we can share and turn to each other at the most trying times, where there is doubt, fear, unknowing and worry and we can hold one another’s joys and sorrows, we can keep with each other through all that will come, be it good or bad. This is our place to bring it, sit with it here in this circle of love and care. This is our home where all are welcome. There is hope here that we will rise to all these challenges. There is hope that among all the confusion there is God.
We shall leave here today but as we do let’s remember we can return, there is an open door here, and a flame of hope and unity to greet us in the window.