The baby Jesus rests in the manger bathed in a circle of soft light. Within the circle Mary kneels, the attentive and doting mother. Behind her stands Joseph, protective. And beyond, just out of the arc of light in the shadows, are the cattle and sheep settled after the bustle of the birth. Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright.
A freeze frame moment to relish and enjoy. Yet it is just that a freeze frame – which then relentlessly works itself out from frame to frame reaching its climax at the Cross and resurrection.
Yet that climax is foreshadowed from the beginning. This birth is momentous and is turning – then and still now – the world upside down. Joseph finding his betrothed pregnant is ready to divorce her. An angel says No. Shepherds – working men- are the first to hear of and attend the birth. Wise men travel long distances and for years with generous and costly gifts to kneel at the feet of this child borne in poverty. The powers that be move remorselessly, threatening the child’s life, so the parents flee across national borders, refugees seeking safety as a family. Looking back, they tell the tale of children slaughtered, families “weeping and great mourning”. (Matt 2.18)
Mary’s heart cry is a foreshadowing, celebrating that God who “…has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts … brought down rulers from their thrones … lifted up the humble … filled the hungry with good things … has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1.53-54)
That turning the world upside down is not welcomed by those who profit and do well from the current ordering of the world. They resist. So as this baby grows into the fullness of adulthood he meets resistance which culminates in the Cross.
That Godly desire to turn the world upside down – or to bring it back into Godly order – where the poor inherit the kingdom… those who mourn will be comforted…the meek inherit the earth… the merciful are shown mercy… those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled… the pure in heart will see God… peace makers will be called sons of God (Matthew 5. 3-10) – that Godly desire is realised on that very Cross where the powers that be thought they had won and put an end to such foolishness. The Cross is the turning point of the kingdom of God, setting in motion the recreation of the world: “Creation itself is being liberated from its bondage to decay and being brought onto the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8.21). Let us not be seduced by manipulation of that freeze frame moment at the manger. May we enjoy, engage with, and be actors in the whole story.
May we be inspired to hope for better things this Christmas – and into the New Year.