There are still a couple pockets of Christmas lingering around our house. The new year brings its own agenda, and in my post-holiday vigor it’s time to get on with life. While I pack up Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the camels I want one last chance to ponder putting away baby Jesus.
I want to think about the actors in the nativity story. There’s only one angel in my nativity set, but there are plenty of them in the story. Gabriel knew the God who would inhabit the body about to be born. The angel spoke to noble, humble Mary with the perspective of eons backward and forward in time: “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:32-33) Joseph, too, after his concerns about propriety, got a heavenly confirmation, to stand by this woman and Son.
Let’s not forget the shepherds – those frightened Everymen startled by an angel while doing their lonely jobs. Then, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:13-14) Might I have been among those heavenly host singing that night?
What did those shepherds know – or, frankly, care – about angels, their souls, or peace on earth before this great awakening? Whatever they thought about before didn’t stop them from seeking that holy baby and sharing the message of the angels. Did that announcement and that journey to see the baby change them? When they headed back up into the hills to their flocks, how were they different?
The camels and the wise men came later. How much later? The scriptures never say. They also never tell us how many men came, just that there were three gifts. How old was Jesus? Since they arrived at some unspecified time after his birth to a “house” with only Mary acknowledged as present, maybe the God of Heaven and Earth was toddling around, curious about the shiny and fragrant presents. I’m willing to let my nativity set conflate the story and have the wise men move slowly closer during advent. The record tells us something about how this visit changed them: Heaven intervened to direct them home on another route, and they obeyed.
Some journeys to Jesus take longer than others. The routes vary. Some travel through rocky, rugged terrain. Some move in awkward caravans through unfamiliar lands. Some have an angel announce the message directly to them. Some stand in the room, uncomprehending. I am at times each of these people. Other pilgrims travel their own routes.
The details in various tellings of this event are mixed, morphed or perhaps even contradictory, but the core is what matters. God came to earth. Angels stepped out of time to deliver to mortals (trapped in time) an eternal message of hope, peace and salvation. That message is focused on that little, great being – Jesus.
I will pack away the baby Jesus of fabric and clay until next year. I will celebrate with wonder and awe when I unwrap each figure next December. I will think about their journeys. And as this new year unfolds I will continue to walk my daily path of worship, love and honor towards – and with – that Savior whom the angels proclaimed.