A favorite childhood place was the front row of St. Maurice Catholic Church in Stamford, CT. A creche displayed on the left side of the altar captivated youthful attention. The image telling the story of the birth of Jesus brought to life the Gospel account read aloud by the Priest. This vintage scene illustrated the Messiah’s origin in a way that remains with me to this very day.
The birth story connected with people longing for a coming Messiah. Matthew told it in a way that met people’s expectations. His writing required a reasoned account in defense of the way the Messiah came into being in the world. The tale appears after his sharing of ancestry from Abraham to Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17). The verses following the genealogy are an exercise in apologetics. They aim to enable recognizing Jesus of Nazareth the Messiah, son of David.
Matthew does the work of confronting the parentage and place of origin of Jesus. He appeases an audience familiar with ancient prophecy (France, 42). People longing for the day of the Messiah's coming could rest. The time came in the conception of a baby. God displayed the extraordinary in an ordinary way.
Before reading the scripture, let’s pray:
"Sustain us, O God on our Advent journey as we go forth to welcome the One who is to come. Plant within our hearts your living Word of promise, and make haste to help us as we seek to understand what we went out to see in the Advent wilderness: your patience nurturing your saving purpose to fulfillment, your power in Jesus making all things new. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen." (Eklund, 16)
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoke by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had not marital relations with her until she had borne a son, and he named him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25
The nativity narrative holds a place where people’s longing meets the revelation of God. This is a moment in time when promises made met mysterious action and human response. People in need of salvation want to hear and see a glimpse of hope. The days leading up to the birth of Jesus hold this longing. The action of God’s Spirit reveals wonder through ordinary human experience. The story has a relatable theme that comes with an engagement and a wedding and the birth of a child. We all know with family involved there’s going to be drama. It’s expected. Matthew tells of the holy family’s beginning with care and skill. He touches on all the details putting readers at ease. The people entering the divine story are approachable; the least likely of suspects. They are like us.
Apple’s documentary A Year In Music shows how events influence creative expression. Musicians like The Rolling Stones share perspective on our human experience. Their 1972 release of Exiles in the Street included a bluesy inspired tune. The song expresses divine desire and longing. I Just Want to See His Face shares rockstar Mick Jagger anticipating the relief of suffering. His relatable lyrics share a need for meaningful encounter with another being. He touches on a shared experience. When it feels like there is no one we need someone. In low moments, “Then you don’t want to walk and talk about Jesus. You just want to see His face…” There is little contentment found in talk. People long to see some action. Things fall apart in life. It helps to know we are not left on our own. Surprising moments of knowing we are not alone restore us and inspire hope.
I Just Want To See His Face from Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street 1972
The wonder of seeing the nativity scene comes with a challenge for our lives. How might we display the mystery of God? Can we capture the intention of purpose held by the birth of a baby destined to save humanity? What gesture are we invited to extend?
Imagine for a moment an “Angel Tree” displayed in the hallway of a community hospital. The tree decorated by the Salvation Army holds the names and wishes of local children. They represent a marginalized population. Their families need help to make Christmas happy and memorable for their children. Passersby may choose a child’s name from the tree and make a dream come true. Selecting an 8-year-old boy who needs clothes but wants a bike sparks excitement. Empty-nesters ordered and assembled a single-speed bike with push back brakes. It would make any 8-year-old beam. Paired with a helmet the bike arrived at Salvation Army headquarters by the deadline.
Now, imagine the reaction of the kid receiving the gift of two wheels for Christmas.
What feelings does your imagination of the moment invoke? Anticipation and excitement? Joy and kindness? Participating in such acts puts us in touch with the sentiment of Oh Holy Night. “A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices”.
How are you going to engage the hope of the nativity story in your life today?
Eklund, Rebekah. At Home with the Word, Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, IL 2021
France, R.T. The Gospel of Matthew. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.