An Unusual Task: Have you ever been asked to do something that seemed too big a task for you to handle, it just left you feeling totally inadequate?
Maybe you've tried to quit smoking and cant quite shake it. Perhaps you've been asked to sing at an event you just didn't feel ready for. I can remember learning to drive and being convinced that if I lost concentration for a moment, I would kill someone.
I want you to imagine how it must have felt for Mary, the day she turned around and discovered an angel sitting at the kitchen table telling her that she was to become the Mother of God!
In all likelihood, as a young girl engaged to be married, Mary would have been in her teens. She would have had her dreams and ambitions, her fears and excitement about her upcoming wedding and all of a sudden she finds out she’s expecting a baby and her fiancé isn’t the father… When Mary & Joseph worked through that bump in their relationship, they then had to get their head round the idea that this Child was some kind of saviour, the Son of God.
Christmas is about God breaking into the real world, into real people’s lives, in an extraordinary way.
Bizarre Gifts: Have you ever been given something that has come as a bit of a surprise or caught you off guard? I was unemployed, living in a caravan and desperately trying to find paid work when I came home to find a small wrapped parcel on my side of the bed… expecting it to be a Cadbury’s Wispa lovingly given me by my beautiful wife. I was not expecting it to be a pregnancy test letting me know that we were having a baby!
In the next few weeks parents across the country will be painting their children’s chins with mascara, tying a tea towel round their head and fastening a bed sheet to their torso. Some of these children will be marching across school stages and church halls clutching stuffed sheep and others more precious gifts - wrapped boxes supposedly carrying Gold, Frankincense & Myrrh.
Gifts fit for for a King, not the unexpected son of a young carpenters wife: Gold, is precious, valuable and in the ancient world associated with tribute, authority and kingship. Frankincense and Myrrh are the resin, the hardened sap of particular trees that were traded across the ancient world. Their fine aromas speak of luxurious wealth and splendour…
All gifts worthy of a newborn king of the Jews, an heir to the throne - in fact these are all gifts worthy of a God and are found throughout the Bible being used in acts of worship - But myrrh also speaks about something far more mortal. It was used to embalm the dead and prepare bodies for funerals from Egypt across to Palestine.
What a strange gift to give to a baby, what a shocking present to give to a first time mum and dad - could you imagine turning up to the maternity ward with a couple of grand, 12 pints of Chanel no. 5 and an adult sized coffin?
“These’ll come in handy. Don’t loose the last one”
What would you do?! Well we are told elsewhere that this fantastic young woman, this lady given the mind bending task of raising up, feeding, clothing, toilet training, cuddling, playing with and consoling the very God she had been brought up to worship - she treasured all these wonderful, paradoxical, perplexing things in her heart, and pondered on them… I don’t know when she realised that when God chose to break into this broken world of us to save people it would mean seeing the beautiful baby of christmas grow into a strong, caring young man who would be rejected and despised for telling people to forgive and love one another, that there was a way to really know God, a way to be forgiven and made new. I don’t know when she realised just what that mission was going to cost.
Christmas is just the beginning: You see many of us have this belief that Christmas is for children, that it’s about a special baby, that it’s about a couple of middle eastern migrants miraculously finding somewhere to stay for a couple of nights (how topical) but Christmas is about God coming into this world, so that he could live a life that try as we might, we can’t quite measure up to, and to die a death so that we can live forever.
Have you let Jesus grow up into the saviour, into a friend or have you kept him as a baby, and wheeled him out year after year only to miss what his gift, his presence really means?