For how important it is, the Christmas story takes up precious little print in the Bible. Indeed, only the Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell the story. The Gospel of Mark begins with Jesus ministry. And the Gospel of John begins, well, it begins somewhere else entirely. But the Nativity story, as the Bible tells it, is found only in the first two chapters of Matthew and the first two chapters of Luke. All said, about one hundred verses or so out of the thousands of verses and chapters of the Bible.
So, if the Bible itself doesn’t make that big of a deal out of Christmas, why do we?
One can easily blame commercialization and our over-riding consumer/shopper mentality. Or it might simply be the fact that once you start a tradition, it’s really, really hard to shut it down. Traditions have a way of ballooning out of their original intent. Birthdays in American culture have always been over-sized as well. And of course, everyone likes a good party. We need very little reason to decorate, to eat, and to take a few days off work and watch a little (or lot) of football! These are all good reasons to celebrate; with or without a child in a manger.
And while it is true that many Americans gleefully celebrate a holiday named after a child whom they no longer recognize as the guest of the party, let alone the birthday boy, the Bible’s short Christmas stories continue to anchor us to the truth. The truth that not only was a baby named Jesus born many years ago in a small town called Bethlehem, a baby whose birth the world still celebrates, but that this baby was God. God made flesh.
Which, ironically, is one of the reasons why the Christmas stories in the Bible occupy so little space. The story, as it were, is simply too incredible to explain. When a miracle occurs, more words, more explanation, do not often make the miracle any easier to understand. Miracles cannot really be explained. They simply have to be believed. Or not.
The angel Gabriel appearing to Zechariah, then Mary, and then through a dream to Joseph. Not just one, but two miraculous births. First an elderly lady great with child, Elizabeth. And then her young virgin cousin, Mary, conceiving. Add to that the shepherds and wise men, all brought on stage at just the right time. All of which is centered around the greatest miracle of the incarnation: Jesus, Son of Mary, Son of God.
As a preacher, the short Christmas stories in Matthew and Luke remind me that sometimes more words do not make a story better, simply longer. Indeed, adding more words to a good story can often make the story more confusing, not less. (As we have seen with all the other “stories” told at Christmas time that circle around the one true story – elves and snowmen and reindeer and what not. Do they really add to the story, or take away from it?)
Indeed, perhaps what makes the true Christmas story so remarkable is its simplicity. Matthew and Luke said what needed to be said about the birth of Christ. Without one extra word.
And perhaps, I too, have said enough.
In Christ’s Loving Service, Pastor Steve