She gave birth to her firstborn son
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.’
So what did you ask Santa to bring you this year? A Santa Claus at one mall was more than a bit surprised to see what he guessed to be a twenty-something year old female in the line up of children approach and sit on his lap. Quickly recovering from his surprise Santa asked, "And what do you want for Christmas?" "Something for my mother,” said the young woman. “For your mother, that is very thoughtful of you,'' smiled Santa, “What can I get her?" She paused and said, "I'd like for her to get a son-in-law ".
I suspect that this Christmas—as in many before—there are some anticipating/hoping that a diamond ring is among this year’s gifts; and for the giver, while we want the recipients of all our gifts to like what we gave them, there is a special angst about giving this gift. Most of us want to be assured of an affirmative response to our proposal of love before we ask; this is why we ask pre-proposal questions like: “If I asked you to marry me would you say yes?” This is also why we offer direct hints: “sweetheart, if you asked me to marry you I would say yes”.
I invite you to reflect with me on a proposal of love that God makes to each of us in the gift of the Son; a proposal made in which God commits himself to you and me without any assurance of our response; indeed a proposal made to a human race hostile to him. When we read this text “And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn Son”; the Son is this gift—the “ring” so to speak”—in God’s proposal of love; but the analogy breaks down because the Son is so much more that a ring, he is in himself the pledge having given himself for you and me. The question is will we say yes?
1. It gave a whole new meaning to Advent calendar; this year London department store Harrods unveiled advent calendars with a one-million-dollar price tag— five were offered for sale, one for each continent. Behind the 24 windows of the calendar are a galaxy of luxury gifts; the gifts include a $135,000 chronograph watch in rose gold, a designer kitchen, and a 28-foot speedboat. Its aim was to “bring festive joy to the Christmas-loving tycoon”.
Gifts of this magnitude seem to go against what we consider the true meaning of Christmas; the ostentatious nature of the gift feels wrong when placed beside the poverty of Joseph and Mary and the babe in the manger. But before we write off extravagance as utterly inappropriate I invite you to pause and consider the extravagance of God in the gift of the Son.
When we rehearse the Christmas story we can readily put ourselves into the shoes of Mary or Joseph or shepherds or wise men; that is to say that we have enough experience in being human to imagine the various aspects of what these people would encounter. What we cannot really imagine is what it was like for God to become human; become a helpless babe completely dependent of humans for life.
One thing the creation story of Genesis declares is that we humans are creatures and God is utterly distinct from the creation; we are not God and God is not us—only God is infinite, for example. As some might put it—God is so not us!
In a recent sermon I talked about a neutron star which is a star that has imploded on itself. From your recollections of science class you will remember that gravity bends light. The gravity pull of a neutron star is so powerful that the light from the star remains in its orb; it doesn’t travel away from it; we call this a black hole. In reality it is not a hole at all; the neutron star is so dense that a thimble full weighs more than the entire human population of the earth. Now if God created this and sustains its existence by his power how dense is God?
In addition to the mind stretching reality of density with respect to God, the idea that God is eternal, that God has no beginning or end; such reflection will also tax human cognitive powers and similarly “hurt your head”. It is my conviction that that we do not have a word in our language that even begins to approximate what we mean by God’s extravagance of love with respect to the Son of God becoming human for our sakes.
2. It is true that we cannot fully comprehend what is it is for the Creator to become the creature; the enormity of this reality is staggering. This is not the same thing as saying we can know nothing of what that might mean. I invite you to consider one aspect of its meaning.
There are many things in life in which we prize keeping our options open—when we consider a course of study we consider the options that open up as a result. A proposal of marriage is not like that; in such a proposal we are making a choice to deliberately cut off all options save one. A proposal with one hand holding the gift and the other behind our back with fingers crossed, so to speak, is to betray the meaning of love. We have, in our proposal of marriage, proverbially burned our bridges behind us; there is no going back.
When Mary gave birth to her firstborn Son there was no going back for God; that Jesus is born is God’s declaration to us that he has burned all bridges behind him for our sake; this is the nature of the love of God. In one of our slides we use in our worship at Christmas is a picture of a manger in the shadow of a cross. There is no going back now, as far as the Son of God is concerned. He is committed to go all the way for us; all the way to hell and back that we might know freedom from our sins’ power and penalty.
When we read this story of Christmas; of Mary and Joseph in a barn far removed from the bright lights of Rome and the seats of civilized power, education and entertainment; when we read this story we read of another history that overshadows it all—the history of what God is up too in bringing his salvation. Jesus birth indicates that a fork in the road has come for God and he has chosen in our favour. When she gave birth to her firstborn son God’s salvation is being born into the world; history turns in the darkness of a stable.
3. One final reflection. When a proposal for marriage is made there is no taking it back; there is only the waiting for an answer. God’s proposal of love for our salvation also awaits answer; as long as history endures God does not take his proposal back. What remains is your answer and mine.
The truth is that there is a festive joy and peace that we cannot anticipate nor know until we accept God’s extravagant gift of His Son. My prayer is that each of us will know the joy of saying “Yes”.