Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house....

 

This, of course, is the first line of Clement Clarke Moore’s (1779 - 1863) now famous poem.

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.
 

What a lovely scene, all wrapped up in bed, waiting for Santa to arrive. 

It is often said that Christmas is for the Children. Christmas is geared around warm, cozy feelings of warmth and safety. Well, Matthew didn’t seem to get the email; Matthew’s nativity would have to be shown after the 9 o’clock watershed. The “Original British Drama” type of programme.

In Matthew 1 and 2 we have suspected adultery; leading to possible divorce; astrology; a despotic king plotting the death of a potential rival—something like the princes in the tower of King Richard fame—we have the massacre of innocent children—perhaps not on the scale of ISIS but something akin—we have a middle eastern family fleeing this murderous situation and the internal displacement of a vulnerable family. Not exactly what the traditional Nativity play includes. You can almost hear the shrill, outraged voice of the Daily Mail, “Children Traumatized by ‘realistic’ Nativity Play.”
Mother Mary and Baby Jesus
In the first two chapters of Matthew we get a lot of information about the identity of this child. I want to focus in on the Immanuel (God with us) title. The presence of God is like bookends at the beginning and end of Matthew’s Gospel. ‘And they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’) (Matthew 1:23) and ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20). Biblical scholars tell us that when you get such an “inclusio” the rest of the book should be read through that concept.

It is amazing when we consider the way God chose to be with us. God has intervened in human history not by sending a prophet with a message (as in the Old Testament), not by writing a book and giving it to us (as Muslims believe about the Koran), but he has intervened in human history by coming bodily to earth and by becoming one of us.

Bethlehem was just over 7km from Jerusalem and Herod’s soldiers (less than 20 minutes by horse). He truly did put Jesus in harm’s way. God chose to be put into dangerous and vulnerable position. He came into a poor and vulnerable refugee family who actually end up as an internally displaced people. Joseph was from Bethlehem but they are forced to live, probably near Mary’s family in Nazareth. As we know from Nathaniel’s comment in John 1:46, Nazareth was not well respected. So here we have Matthew’s rather gritty narrative. Not one for the children. 

Many All Nations student have and still do work in areas where children live (and die) in situations not dissimilar to the one Matthew tells us about. This Christmas, to keep Christ at the centre, let us pray and even act in some way to relieve the suffering of those children.

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