And amidst our simple, quiet Christmas celebrations this year, I (Kate) find myself immersed in the Christmas story in a new way.
I find myself imagining what it might have been like, to have been a quiet bystander in the Christmas story. I imagine I was a humble 29 year old woman, born and reared in a faithful Jewish family. I imagine I would have been married for sometime, probably to a man chosen for me and most likely we would have children and live with much of our extended family, probably in a small town where generations of our family had lived. I imagine we might be poor. I would dress humbly, in clothes made of course cloth and probably have very limited choice in life. I would be virtually powerless, as both a woman and as a jew, under the Roman rule. I would have the Jewish law that would act as my religious guide, as well as inform much of how I did my day to day life, including what I wore and how I cooked. It would tell me how to pursue a holy life, and how I might have a chance of a good eternal life.
I would’ve had stories of my peoples’ history of exile from Egypt, stories of the fall and rise of different rulers and kids and stories of prophets who brought promise of liberation for my people. Stories, that I sat at my Father’s feet and heard over and over again and stories that we tell out children. Stories that promise that life won’t always be only as it was then. Stories that promise a king and ruler who would be our very own salvation.
Maybe I would have been content with my simple life, and not find myself wanting more. Or maybe I would be occasionally frustrated by the challenge created by the oppression of my people under the Roman rule, through taxes and laws. Maybe sometimes I felt sadness for animal sacrifice required for the atonement of my peoples sins, wishing there was another way. Maybe I would have selfishly longed for a free and easy life, I imagine I would have hoped and desperately prayed for better for my children. But I suspect the longing in my heart would have been to know I was part of a story much bigger than my own. I would have longed for a story of victory, a defining salvation story, a promise of hope and future. Maybe I would look back at the powerful rulers in my history and pray with deep longing for another ruler like Moses to come and rescue us, or maybe a wise and powerful King like David to overthrow the oppressive Roman government.
Then I imagine hearing the rumours of a girl called Mary, who is younger than me and as poor as me saying some impossible story of a virgin birth, during the census time. And how they named their baby ‘Emmanuel’, a name I had heard before, at my Father’s feet, meaning that God had fulfilled His promise to be with us. I imagine hearing stories that angels had appeared to shepherds, some of the few people poorer than us to reveal the news. Or hearing stories of wise men who travelled far, betraying King Herod to bring gifts and worship this baby. Then I imagine going to the temple one day with my husband and hearing that Mary, Joseph and this baby had been there and they had caused a stir. Simeon and Anna, both old worshippers whom I had seen there my whole life had gotten out-of-control excited by this baby and made powerful statements, saying that He would be my peoples’ salvation and a light for all people. That He was the promise of hope and salvation that we longed for. This was all anyone had talked about at the temple since it happened.
At this point I realise that jewish-first-century-me would have had a choice, much like the choice that 21st-century-millennial-me has. I would have to decided in my heart whether this story is madness or truth. I imagine that I could not ignore this talk in the temple, these stories of promise and hope, no matter how different they were from what we had expected. Either this is the fulfilment of my Jewish history, the defining moment of the story of our world, the hope of future for all people, the redemption of nature and our souls. This is the hope my family, friends, ancestors and children (or future Children) will have for salvation and life. I believe this would have been true for the imagined-Jewish-me, and it is true for the real me.
I imagine that I could not regard this story as irrelevant to my life, revered prophets were talking, rulers were turning crazy, the religious were stirring. Today is the same, people around me are sacrificing their lives, or radically changing, whole communities centre around this story and hope. And to be honest, while 21st-century-millennial-me has days where I am content with my simple life. I have many more days when my heart wants to know I am part of a story much bigger than my own. I long for a story of victory, a defining salvation story, a promise of hope and future. I long for this for myself, for my family and for my world.
I imagine that Jewish-first-century-me could not be indifferent and 21st-century-millennial-me cannot be indifferent to this story. As C. S. Lewis pointed out, I could not regard this newborn child ‘as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects — Hatred — Terror — Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.’ Like the wise men whose hearts leapt with joy, just for seeing the star, my heart leaps for joy. Like the innkeeper, who had to decide whether he had room, for what would be his defining story, I have to make room in my heart for this story.
I imagine that as jewish-first-century-me made my way through the temple where hundreds were praying, men with covered and women with uncovered heads. I would ponder these stories as I walked through the hustle and bustle. I imagine that as I pondered all these stories, my heart would have been filled with joy, that this story is the one, this baby is God. He is the hope of all people, the fulfilment of all promises. This baby is God in flesh, God showing compassion, God bringing redemption to the undeserving. This is the story that will bring end to all poverty, death, oppression and abuse.
Similarly, as 21st-century-millennial-me sits this Christmas, in the quiet of my thatched house, typing away, wearing clothes of soft, synthetic fabric, appreciating the incredible freedom and choice I have in my life and the lack of political and religious oppression in my country. I have Christmas carols playing from Spotify on my phone. I have a hot meal slow cooking on the stove and rain is falling outside. I do not have to imagine to know that I believe that this story is true. My heart leaps with joy at the thought that God came as human, born as a helpless child. This story is my defining story. Jesus is the hope for the world.