In Luke’s Gospel, the histories of ordinary people meet world history. Herod, Quirinius the governor, and Augustus Caesar run the known world. But it is in the story of ordinary, faithful people Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph that we discover what matters. The Son of God is not found in palaces of the great and powerful. We first see him in the pains of childbirth of a village girl, forced to travel with her husband from her home by the demands of officialdom and driven to seek shelter in a cow stall.
We can sometimes forget how shocking the Christian story is. Mary and Joseph are the parents of the one who comes to save the world. Yet they stand patiently in queues along with the millions throughout history who have been pushed around by remote, corrupt bureaucracies. The first to greet the new-born are shepherds, among them bandits, refugees from the wrath of the Roman superpower. But it is amongst these that God chooses to be ‘God-with-us’. And this is why the Christmas Gospel is a Gospel of joy. The name ‘Jesus’, carries the message that here, in this simplicity and poverty, among these ordinary people, is the rescue, brought about by God.
When we try and understand the history of the world since the coming of Christ, we can sometimes feel a little disappointed. If he was born and died and rose, why is the world not so much better now? Movements that rise on the tide of liberation and hope sink back into complacency, self-interest and corruption. People kill one another in the pursuit of wealth, whether in the bloodshed of military force or the slow, impersonal death through economic forces. Our globalised world now does not seem so very different from the ancient, global space of the Roman Empire on whose edges the Christ was born.
And that is perhaps the point. Christ is continually born into our world and into our lives. And our human history, with all its light and shadow, continuously needs God’s saving help. There are moments of grace for each of us that transform our hearts with hope. There are moments of grace for the world that give us all a vision that things can be different, that we can be different.
As we gaze on the scene at Bethlehem, it speaks to us and tells us that those glimpses of hope represent the deepest truth about God and the world and us. It is an invitation to see the world with God’s eyes, from below, in simplicity, and to recognize who we are called to become. We are to follow this child, the healer, the liberator from sin and death. We are to be signs of his presence, bringing him to birth in our generation, with healing and reconciliation, with liberation, justice and peace. In every generation the world longs for God’s rescue. In every generation the Christ-child is born anew, among ordinary lives, to refresh the world with hope.