Two formerly obscure old people
become Luke’s surprising choice
as his final witnesses
to the Messiah’s birth.
In his historically improbable
but still entrancingly wondrous
natal narrative, he retrospectively presents us
with the excited pronouncements
of an elderly man and an aging widow.
Salvation for Israel,
light and hope for the foreigners,
redemption for Jerusalem;
here, in this infant.
Imagine if a pair of old people stood up
to deliver such outrageous observations
in our own time.
There probably wouldn’t be a camera crew
on hand to record the event
or interview the key players;
it would be unlikely to make the papers.
At best, there might be a few smiling selfies
with the old people, the mother and child.
Some, no doubt, would end up online;
maybe with a paragraph in someone’s blog,
to be reposted by a handful of friends,
or shared with a link.
Most likely we’d offer a patronising wink or a smile
and shake our collective heads
before joining in the joking dismissal.
Let’s face it, the elderly
probably weren’t taken seriously back then,
either. No one else seemed to notice,
or bothered to remember;
Gospel writers Matthew and Luke
are the approved suppliers
of the raw materials
from which we cobble together our Christmas stories;
faith being the thread that seeks,
gathers and ties the meaning.
The angels speak of the wonder
of the aching God who decides to take action
and to embrace uncertainty.
The girl-woman, Mary,
is a sign of human obedience
and willingness to let God’s perplexing purposes
take their unpredictable course.
Her carpenter husband, Joseph,
in determining to proceed with their marriage,
shows the persistence of human compassion
in the face of bewildering embarrassment.
And the baby, strange and vulnerable,
tells us of the mystery of divine love
found, unexpectedly and riskily,
So, what of the fat man in the red suit,
intruding uninvited into our neat nativity?
Perhaps he is God, laughing.
The rich had taken the best rooms
in the inns, and the private homes too.
The moderately well-off took the rest.
The poor camped where they could,
gathered around fires, swapped yarns,
got counted, and made their plans
to head home. Bethlehem
had taken on the appearance
of a refugee camp;
the city fathers were not impressed.
Joseph and Mary had been among
the campers by the creek,
until the contractions
of the impending birth drove them
to seek a more substantial shelter.
In a stable the animals seemed to enjoy
a tolerable standard of accommodation;
they decided to join them.
There the child would be born
and God made welcome.
The seed that grows within the womb
of the bewildered child-woman
began, we are told,
as a loving, aching thought
in the mind of God.
The mysteries of our mortal being
lie deep in the pre-historic
annals of creation,
defying the simple explanations
of both religion and reason.
Those who embrace faith
will insist on one thing alone:
that its source is also love.
This love, they declare
in obedience to the one who they follow,
is the beginning of all that is good
and beautiful and true.
We cannot say with confidence
that the acts leading to impregnation
all have their genesis at that same point;
but their outcomes, small, pink and vulnerable,
always take us there.
the child-woman from Nazareth
finds herself with her husband
in a Bethlehem stable; or so one story goes.
In this humble shelter, lacking in amenity
but with its own strange appropriateness and beauty,
the moment arrives; and the baby
is delivered among the straw,
with all the requisite pain, groans, tears and blood.
In this place, made holy,
and at this instant rendered sacred,
love begins its wondrous journey of fulfilment
among us all.