by Ben Gumienny
Maybe it’s because I’ve been hammering away at a novel for the last month or it’s a satiation of Christmas movies, but this season I find myself thinking a lot about the Christmas story set out in the Scripture. And what great storytelling it is! We have the requisite foreshadowing through mysterious prophecies that make much more sense to us in retrospect than they would have to the people living at that time. We have the culmination of events, or what the Bible calls “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4), setting the stage for the first Advent and the spread of the Gospel.
All the supporting cast are in their places and cued up: the angel Gabriel firms up his travel schedule for a busy season of visitations; an old priest is struck dumb while his aged wife becomes pregnant; astrologers make a startling discovery in a far-off land and shepherds in the hills outside Bethlehem have no idea what is about to hit them. A teenaged Mary is about to have her world turned upside down while a humble carpenter named Joseph will be stretched to accept a divinely blended family that flies in the face of his community’s customs, not to mention his hopes and dreams for his future.
And all of these happenings take place against a backdrop of upheaval and oppression that creates a longing in God’s chosen people. They cry out for deliverance and salvation as they had so many times throughout their history. Each time they called God answered, setting them free from Egyptians, Philistines, Babylonians and more. This time He would hear their prayers but would answer far beyond anything they could have asked or imagined. For the most important main character in history is about to make His appearance on the stage. He will do so in the most outrageous fashion: choosing to become a helpless baby at his parents’ most inconvenient time in the least desirable environment imaginable.
As Jesus makes his entrance watch carefully what happens to the rest of the characters in our story. These are all people with their own stories and histories, motivations and desires. Yet suddenly they are thrust into orbit around a new center: this baby who will do nothing bit sleep, eat, cry and poop for the first year (or more) of his life. Now they have become but players on the stage before this God-man before whom they willingly worship. And as He grows in stature they will only continue to decrease, recognizing that their place in this story is to give way and give glory to Him.
We live in interesting times where so many of the messages we receive put us in the center of the stage. From social media to selfies, commercials to the latest Disney or Marvel movie, we are constantly told that we are the main character and the chief protagonist. The story revolves around us, our satisfaction and we can be the hero if we just believe in ourselves and our dreams. But what if we are not the main character at all? What if we are just one of the supporting cast that becomes nearly invisible so that only One will be glorified? What if we are to be made low in order to lift others to peace with God? It’s hard to imagine how the story might have changed if Joseph had insisted on his rights or the wise men had alerted King Herod to Jesus’ whereabouts because they insisted on taking a selfie with the newborn King.
Our own time is also set against a backdrop of longing and upheaval as we await the second Advent. There are many crying out for deliverance, whether it be from Trump, racism or the inequalities and injustices closer to home. We hope for the return of Christ when “all things will be made new” (Rev 21:5) and we ardently desire the Person of Jesus and the wedding feast of the Lamb. Yet there is much to be done and so many to reach as we expectantly look ahead. As we contemplate the Nativity this Christmas season let us ask ourselves what part we are called to play in His story. Are we willing to kneel beside a humble manger in the manure-stained straw and leave our need to be central and important in the dirt there? Are we willing to look into the newborn face of the One who became nothing for our salvation and follow in His footsteps to our cost and cross? This Christmas may we find the joy of giving our selves, our rights and our futures so that Jesus may increase more and more until the day of His return. Then we can truly join with the angels’ refrain from that momentous night: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” (Lu 2:14)