Now some postnatal events: men from the Orient led by a star, flight to Egypt, massacre of the innocents, presentation in the Temple.
That’s enough to be going on with. Every single one of these details has resonances with Old Testament writings. You could say:
- ‘how clever of prophets, centuries before, to be right about what would happen.’
- ‘how clever of God to listen to prophets, and arrange things so.’
- ‘how clever of Gospel writers to manipulate the story so that prophetic comments can be interpreted as having come true.’
It’s striking how people obsess about detail but miss the big picture. Not one of those details listed above matters. They’re colourful and fun, but that’s all. The Christmas story is, big picture, about renewal, and the power of powerlessness. End of. That’s what the resurrection/ascension is about too. In fact, that’s what Christianity is about.
One of the reasons I like Advent is because of the sense of yearning for renewal. Homecoming. ‘O come, O come.’ To quote a friend: ‘I yearn to be a person who is better able to bring the qualities I see in Jesus into the world. I yearn for a better world and for the ability to make a contribution to it.’
Renewal comes when we put the past behind us, mistakes and all, and start again, in hope. As Queen Elizabeth II said in Dublin in 2011, ‘With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently … or not at all.’ We’re all in that place.
Renewal is about forgiving and being forgiven. The Christmas story is about renewal for you and me that comes when we give up the search for certainty, we accept that we, like infants, are powerless, and fall back on what Christians might call the Divine will. ‘Be born in us today.’
Never mind that the Nativity story is probably entirely fictional—it’s fiction with meaning. Our lives are messy like a stable, at least mine is, with all sorts of smelly impedimenta cluttering the place up. We have to start from where we are, and that means letting go of where we were, or used to be—and of where we would like to be.
We forgive. We are forgiven. We move on, naked and powerless.