The Visit of the Wise Men
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel. ’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.
Every year, at this time, I, and many of my colleagues ask: How can we tell the Christmas Story in a new way?
How can we bring it up to date and make it relevant for folk today?
And so we keep on coming up with different ideas.
Different ways of getting the Christmas message across.
Be it You Tube clips of Mr Bean and the Nativity Scene -
Or the Digital Facebook Nativity.
This year I was involved in filming a part of the Christmas story based on The Apprentice.
Our task, as apprentices, was to find a gift for a king.
We keep on trying to update the story.
But the truth is that, whatever you believe:
The story of Christmas is one that we see repeated the world over - and not just at Christmas time.
The biblical story of Christmas is the story of a child being born in difficult circumstances.
Born to an unmarried, teenage mother.
Born into poverty.
Born into a land ruled by oppressive forces.
It was a grim story.
Not the pretty version that we often portray-
With a warm stable and a tired donkey and smiling shepherds.
The bible story is much harsher than that.
The baby is no sooner born in awful conditions before his parents have to flee for their lives.
They become refugees, forced to take to the road and hide from soldiers roaming the streets.
The story is dark and depressing.
No wonder we try to dress it up.
No wonder we get little children to dress up as angels and shepherds and sing of little donkeys.
If we told the story as it really was, we'd give children nightmares.
But, in all the harshness of the story is an underlying message of love.
It was out of love that God chose to send Jesus.
Out of love for a world dark and oppressed.
Out of love for people struggling to survive.
Into that world God sent Jesus to bring love.
One of my favourite Christmas Carols is Love came down at Christmas.
The idea was that the birth of Jesus would change the world.
That people would no longer struggle with the kind of poverty and the kind of oppression that existed when Jesus was born.
No longer would families be forced to flee from unjust regimes.
No longer would they be caught up in conflict.
But just look at any news broadcast today.
And we see countless refugees.
In Syria, in Serbia - and in so many other places.
Folk forced to abandon their homes, meagre as those homes are.
Folk forced to take to the streets to avoid opposing forces surrounding their homes and villages.
And Aid workers unable to help, held back by corrupt governments and regimes.
And, in case we think that that's something that's happening far away.
Something to which we can send money, (though nothing seems to be helping at present).
There are also pressing issues right here in our own communities.
That's why Food Banks are springing up everywhere.
It's why there are more and more folk sleeping on our streets.
Here, too, poverty and injustice leaves people without food or shelter, all the things we would consider basic human rights, if we consider them at all.
Christmas is not a warm, family, sharing time for so many people for all sorts of reasons.
But it is a time when we can choose, whatever we believe, to make a difference.
To do something, however small, to share the love that is at the heart of the season.
It's a time when we can choose to update the story.
To break that cycle of injustice and oppression with the power of love.
To rewrite the story for our community.
In churches at this time of year we reflect on the themes of light, hope, peace and love in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Just imagine being the generation that manages to change the story of Christmas.
The generation that finally manages to see some real light, some real hope, some real peace and some real love being born in the world.
That WOULD be a new Christmas story.
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