No Christmas, without ordinary people
Have you ever noticed how full of ordinary people the Christmas story is? For a description of the birth of a king, it has remarkably few remarkable characters.
Take Mary, for instance. She was a young girl, just starting out in life – she was probably still living with her parents when she fell pregnant with Jesus. In the gospels, her fiancé Joseph is described as a tekton – meaning carpenter or craftsman – so he was probably not of a particularly high social standing. Both live their lives in an ordinary way yet are chosen for a very specific, important purpose: to help bring God’s son into the world, and to raise him into adulthood.
We often think of the ‘wise men’ as kings, but actually the magi can more accurately be described as star gazers or astrologers. Though respected for their ‘science’ (for this is how it was seen in those days), they did not have the prestige of the royalty, such as King Herod himself. They travelled for miles to visit this baby, and to bring him gifts of great symbolism.
The shepherds had very mundane jobs. Looking after and caring for sheep was an important task but a lonely one, usually undertaken by single men. They would have been towards the bottom of society. They felt compelled to visit Jesus at his infancy, so in awe were they.
There are, of course, characters in the Nativity with power and status – King Herod and Caesar Augustus. But it is notable that they were not consulted about the baby’s arrival – indeed, Herod found out via the magi.
So what unites all these people? Their status was unremarkable, yes – but their actions were remarkable, and so was their faith.
Joseph and Mary took a big risk and trusted that God’s plan was sound; they raised his son and did all they could to aid his entry into our world. The magi took a huge leap of faith and made a dangerous journey of many miles just to see this new baby. The shepherds abandoned their sheep for their visit; they knew it was more than worth it, and gave up what they had, despite it being everything.
Jesus’ arrival is, for Christians, one of the most important events of all time, but it was facilitated by those most ordinary. These people had not much to give up, but they gave it all. From the moment that God stepped into their lives, they changed course and lived for him. It shaped all that they did.
A popular Christmas carol at this time of year is ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’. We sing it time and time again, but the words still have the power to convey most powerfully the feelings that people invested in Baby Jesus. In the penultimate line of the first verse, by Phillips Brooks, we can see why Mary, Joseph, the magi and the shepherds acted as they did. They knew it was worth it; Jesus was what they had waited for.
“O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight”
The next time you find yourself saying no to doing the right thing, to making that extra effort for God or simply living as he would, ask yourself what is really holding you back. Is it because you feel you are not ready or not capable? If so, compare yourself to those that Jesus first relied on and ask if it is time that you took a risk and stepped out in faith.