The Christmas story has many different characters that capture our hearts and imaginations. And, like any good story, if this one is going to appeal to us, we have to claim some part of it, some character in the story, discover a lesson there, and embody that lesson in our own lives. How does this story affect the way that you live your life? What character or characters in the story appeal to you?
Is it Mary, the young woman who perhaps finds herself the object of scorn and ridicule because she is unmarried and pregnant; the young woman who can see the hand of God guiding her and caring for her and her infant son. And what about Joseph, do you identify with this quiet and constant protector and supporter, the one who lovingly raises this child, this gift of God that is not his own.
There are shepherds, simple, humble folk who hear the voices of angels, who perhaps live peace-filled lives and whose hearts are moved by the birth of this holy child. Do they resonate with you? What about the angels themselves? They are celestial beings on a mission; beings with a sense of calling to proclaim the glory of God and peace on earth. How does the role of spiritual calling play a part in your life? How might you better emulate their holy message?
And, then there is Herod the one who had all male children under 2 years of age killed when he heard about Jesus’ birth. Herod the Great betrayed his people and made alliances with the Roman and Egyptian authorities so that he could keep and maintain power. How often do we feel so insecure about ourselves that we need to destroy other people in word or deed to make ourselves feel better? How often do we use people to further our own ends? How often do we ally ourselves with what is unhealthy and unholy and deny our own spiritual calling to become better human beings?
Yes, there are also the Magi or wise men. The bible doesn’t mention their names or how many there are. The legends that have developed in the western world say that there were three, but in eastern Christianity, their number is twelve. To me they are the most unusual characters in this story. It’s not clear where exactly they came from and there is no other mention of them in the biblical writings. But they fascinate us anyway.
There are two images of the wise men that I especially want to highlight. They are a group of people with wealth and knowledge who did not turn away from this peasant child. They came to Judea to seek a king. They went to the palace and spoke to Herod. When they found that there was no royal heir that met their criteria they could have turned around and gone home. They could have told themselves that perhaps their calculations were incorrect. Instead they followed their star to its conclusion, even if that conclusion was at a humble stable and an impoverished family. They were men of great faith and they let their faith, their star, lead them to a deeper understanding of God.
The Magi are also portrayed as being from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, perhaps showing us and Matthew’s listeners a model of equality and shared authority among people who are different. How might it be for us if we had the courage to follow our own star, our own calling of faith to the place where it will lead us, regardless of where that is? How might our lives be different if we were able to transcend the racial and cultural differences that often keep us apart?
Now, I suppose some people might dismiss the Christmas story as legend. And some others might believe it on faith but not think about how it affects their lives today. I think our task at this holy time is to stand in this story once again and see ourselves in its unfolding. Will we be the angels who proclaim peace and the wise ones who go beyond our differences to prepare the world for every child who is born? Will we be the family whose love and support nurtures all holy children and helps them to grow? Or will we be the Herods who, in our insecurity, selfishness, and greed are unable to see the value of every human being and the vision of a bright tomorrow? The lives of all holy children hang in the balance.
Amen, Merry Christmas.
Rev. Arthur Lavoie is the Minister at First Parish Church in Dorchester, Unitarian Universalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.