One of the joys of the approach to Christmas is the number of nativity plays in schools, playgroups and Churches. They are always well attended and those who see children and young people taking part see something which is very special and precious. I am sure many of you will have attended such occasions and seen the story of the birth of Christ retold with familiar words and actions.
In the Bible, both St Matthew and St Luke tell the Nativity story, although they do so from different perspectives. In both, angels play a significant part. St Matthew tells the story from Joseph’s view point. Joseph has a dream in which an angel tells him to take Mary as his wife. It is an angel who appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him to take his wife and child to Egypt because of Herod’s attempts to kill the child. St Luke tells the story from Mary’s perspective and begins with the birth of John the Baptist. Luke’s account also tells of the involvement of angels. An angel speaks to Zechariah the priest, Elizabeth’s husband, and then to Mary with the good news that she is to bear a child. Angels also appear to the shepherds on the hillsides of Bethlehem who then go to see the baby. While, in Matthew, it is the wise men who make a long journey to find the Christ child.
In the Nativity plays we will see over the coming weeks, the accounts of Jesus’s birth, as recorded by both St Matthew and St Luke, are combined to give the story we know so well. All the plays we shall see also contain “added extras” – the Innkeeper (at least one, sometimes many more – often with a speaking part), the ox, the ass, and three kings rather than wise men. We make additions all the time and we interpret the story in different ways because there is a timelessness to it. It invites us to use our imaginations, to think, to wonder, and to become part of the story ourselves. What is most beautiful is that at the heart of the Nativity story is a God who comes to us. God takes on our humanity and makes himself known to us. God chooses to enter into a new relationship with human beings, with shepherds and wise men, and with you and me.
St John, who does not have an account of the birth of Christ in his gospel, says: “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God …. And the word became flesh and dwelt amongst us”. As Christmas approaches, we are all invited, once again, to celebrate God who makes himself known to us. He comes to us to show us how to live and how to love. All human life is part of this story, it is a story of care and concern, and of involvement with the world in which we live. Jesus comes into all the complexities of human living to show us through his birth, life, death, and resurrection, that things can be different, things can be changed. As Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, and the wise men play their part in the story of pointing to Jesus and the new life he offers, so too we are invited to become part of this story once again this Christmas.
May the joy, peace and love of the Christmas season be yours.