Episode 1. A Family Affair
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However we plan on spending Christmas, normally it involves family. Hmm. That can be a mixed blessing. Well 2,000 years ago, there was a little family affair that was a bit like that. Join …
However we plan on spending Christmas, normally it involves family. Hmm. That can be a mixed blessing. Well 2,000 years ago, there was a little family affair that was a bit like that.
It’s a funny time Christmas, it can be such different things to different people. If you get to the northern hemisphere it’s cold, I mean really cold. I have a really good friend Dave and his wife Judy who live in a place called Lincoln Nebraska and over Christmas, they’re telling me how much snow they’ve been shovelling. They have a short break the family gets together and is a bit of a rush and they have presents and get back to work again in early January. You come down to the southern hemisphere and it’s all wrapped up with a Summer holiday thing you know getting to the end of the year, Christmas is happening, most of us are going to have two or three weeks off, we’ve ditched the Turkey for Christmas and because it’s so hot we have a seafood picnic by the beach. To tell you the truth I have this unfulfilled ambition: I would love to spend Christmas in the snow just one year to enjoy my hot turkey. If you go to the east where countries are Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist well Christmas just isn’t part of the culture although, having said that western materialism… well the machine is breaking through and they’re starting to have the whole Santa Claus Christmas shopping thing. In the West of course it’s part of our culture. It’s all about shopping. Billions, literally billions, are spent on credit cards in that Christmas rush.
When did Christmas actually happen? Was it actually the 25th of December? Is that Jesus birthday? Well we’re pretty sure that that’s not the case because if the shepherds were out watching their flocks by night, probably, they weren’t doing that in the dead of winter. Normally, in the dead of winter the shepherds took their flocks and had them housed in places in the villages. That probably wasn’t the 25th of December. It was probably some other time of the year. Christmas actually began in Rome it was Christ mass and the timing was around the Winter Solstice. It was around a Pagan festival. Pretty scary when you look at the history of how we came to celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. And yet wherever we are, whoever we are, however we celebrate Christmas, we do it over and over and over again pretty much the same way, pretty much without thinking because it’s… well… it’s just the way that we’ve always done Christmas. But one of the things that tends to happen at Christmas is that: however we celebrate it, families, extended families, tend to get together for Christmas. It’s probably a bit of a hangover from the past – you know 50 or even 100 years ago – when families gathered together over this Christmas feast.
Maybe for you, that’s a positive experience. Maybe it’s fun and the kids and the cousins get together and there’s presents and there’s time to relax and have a drink and talk and a nice meal. Maybe that Christmas thing is a really positive thing for you but maybe it’s a source of tension. Who’s going to buy presents for which of the kids? There are people in extended families who don’t get on. Often there is much too much drinking and people get drunk at Christmas time. Did you know that Christmas time is one of the highest times for incidents of domestic violence? It can be a tense time and maybe Christmas can be a lonely time, a time of regret, a time when some people are just on their own. And it’s a really sad time to spend on your own. Good or bad, better or worse: Christmas seems to bring this whole family thing into a really sharp focus.
Let’s step back just for a minute. Let’s step back 2000 years to the very first Christmas. That wasn’t exactly a perfect family affair either I have to tell you. Matthew tells us about it right in the first chapter of the book that he’s written – Matthew’s gospel – it’s right at the start of the New Testament. He begins that book with a genealogy. You know so and so begat so and so begat so and so begat so and so. What a riveting way to start the first book of the New Testament. I mean, why did God do that? It is so boring to you and me here and now. Well, it turns out that in Hebrew culture your family and where you came from… those things were really important. People wanted to understand what your lineage was and names meant something. People were named with names that actually mean something. My name Bernard means as strong as a bear. Now, in our culture, we don’t bother much with understanding what names mean but in that culture, those things were really important.
And, it was a patriarchal culture so generally in genealogy’s it was a men-only affair. Only the men were listed. Generally, in genealogies, women were listed by exception if there was a reason a good reason to list them. Well, in the genealogy of Jesus – which kind of traces him right back through David right back to Abraham – there are actually four women listed and they’re each listed because they are a blip, they’re are a wrinkle, they’re a wart on Jesus genealogy.
The first one is Tamar. Tamar pretended to be a prostitute and she slept with her father in law. Rahab is the next woman that’s listed. She was a prostitute. That’s how she made her money: sleeping with men and being paid for it. Ruth is the next woman who’s listed. Ruth was a Moabite. Moabites were a race that the Jews really despised. They were the enemy and they just weren’t well-liked. Then, the next woman that’s listed is not even listed by name. She’s called the wife of Uriah. She’s the one that David saw having a bath on the top of the house once even though she was married. David slept with her, had her husband murdered and ultimately she was Solomon’s mother. The last woman who’s listed is Mary. A teenage girl engaged to Joe – Joseph – who falls pregnant. And Joe decides because she fell pregnant out of wedlock and he clearly wasn’t the dad, he was going to send her away and she says “but it’s not my fault! God did it!” “Yeah right, Mary”. And then an Angel appears to Joseph and says “actually it was God.”
As Jesus was growing up – you know how cruel kids can be in the schoolyard? You know how nasty children can be? – Here’s this Jesus who as far as the society around him was concerned was born out of wedlock. He’s got a dubious genealogy, I mean he’s got some people in his heritage who are just not people that you would want in your genealogy.
There were two terms used for Jesus as he was walking around on the earth: one was the ‘Son of God’ and one was the ‘Son of Man’. ‘The Son of God’ says Jesus is different, he is special. It was God’s spirit that conceived that little boy in Mary’s womb. And yes it’s right for us to look at him and say “that’s God. That’s what God is like. Let’s worship him.” But the label that Jesus most preferred to use about himself was ‘The Son of Man’. In other words, when Jesus talked about ‘The Son of Man’ he was talking about himself. He was saying, “sure I’m the Son of God but I’m also the Son of Man. Also just like you I’m a carpenter. I was born in this rumour and scandal and whispers. My heritage has adulterers and prostitutes in it. I’m less than a nobody I’m a nobody with a bad reputation.
That’s a different perspective on Christmas isn’t it? It’s not what the pantomimes normally give us. But it’s real and it’s here and it’s now and it’s Jesus who identifies with you and me. He’s for real. He’s been through the school of Hard Knocks. He’s God’s son but he’s also the lowest of the low. I love that about Jesus. I love that he was born out of that heritage into that space, in that time. A bit of a different slant on Christmas isn’t it?
One of the things, one of my pet dislikes, is when we take the children’s Christmas pantomime which is well and good in itself and we take that and say ‘it’s that away in a Manger view.’ Where we make the whole Christmas thing so romantic. Christmas was a nitty-gritty, painful, difficult time. The first time round, it was for Joseph, it was for Mary. Have a great Christmas.