The Christian Story of God

Scriptures: Isaiah 7:10-16, Matthew 1:18-25

The Christmas story is the beginning of the story of Jesus, and the end of the story of God in the Christian Bible. The Christmas story is not just about a man named Jesus who was born into a poor Jewish family in the Roman province of Palestine two millennia ago. That is only the plot of the narrative. The Christmas story opens that last chapter of the story of God that begins with the biblical account of creation.

In the beginning, the Bible tells us, God creates all life as well as human life. When Adam and Eve disobey, he doesn't destroy them. That would end the story. He banishes them from paradise to live in the world, and immediately the children of the world begin to quarrel. God is often silent or absent in the story, but God intervenes unsuccessfully to try to purge the world of evildoers with a great flood. God's experience should serve as fair warning to contemporary rulers seeking to justify violence with good intentions.

God then calls a man, Abraham, to obedience, blesses his descendants, saves them from oppression in Egypt, and enters into a covenant with Moses on Mt. Sinai on their behalf. God fights for these chosen people, gives them a land, inspires David to become King of Israel, and blesses Solomon's construction of a temple in Jerusalem. Yet, just as the story seems to be achieving the pinnacle of success, Israel is wracked by civil war and the chosen people are conquered and exiled from the land God secured for them. Prophets arise in this time of dispersion and despair to speak for God about the failure of the people, and the promise God holds out if they repent.

Finally, the Persian Emperor allows exiles in Babylon to return to Jerusalem, where the temple destroyed by the Babylonians is rebuilt and the law of Israel renewed. Yet, in the five hundred years of Jewish faith centered at the second temple, God no longer walks among the people, or speaks directly to them, or even speaks through prophets. The chosen people are left on their own to discern God's purpose and presence through their scriptures, known as the law and the prophets, with the guidance of Jewish teachers called rabbis. The reflections of the rabbis on the law and the prophets are "the writings" at the end of the Jewish Bible (the Jewish story of God).

Now, for us, comes the Christmas story. The God who has been Creator, Conqueror, and King of kings, who has spoken through the law and through the prophets, now enters the life of a child in Bethlehem, the city of David, to be "God with us" (Emmanuel) in the flesh. The Jewish story of God becomes the Christian story of God. The scriptures are reinterpreted and rearranged so the plot is not law/prophets/writings, as in the Jewish scriptures, but law/writings/prophets — and then, in the New Testament, the fulfillment of prophecy.

In the Christmas story the God, who began as Creator of the universe, is now recreated in the womb of a poor peasant women. In the Christian story the God, who conquered armies to free a people and secure them a land, is crucified by the conquering armies of the Roman Empire. In the Christian story the God, who raised up a king for Israel and was worshipped in the temple of Jerusalem, is now found teaching and healing in rural Galilee and throwing the money-changers out of the second temple in Jerusalem. In the Christian story the God, who spoke through the prophets and whose law is the subject of study by the rabbis, lives out the words of the law and the prophets as the Word made flesh (Jn. 1:14) in the world.

No wonder that shepherds and wise man are said to be in awe of this event. No wonder that we gather annually before the cross to hear the old story and to enter once again into our childhood delight at the sight of the stable and the manger, where Mary lays Jesus after he is born. No wonder that we feel a tug at our hearts and a sense of peace, as we light the candles and sing, "Silent night! Holy night!" For unto you this day is born in the city of David a savior, who is Christ the Lord. © Robert Traer 2016