Many of us will have been fighting to shatter the peaceful but one-dimensional snow globe scene of the Christmas story for years, highlighting the light and shade that makes the birth of Jesus such an epic tale. But something about reading it in the light of the ups and downs of 2020 has made the unexpected parts of the story stand out more than ever before. Diving into them can help us explore our sense of confusion, exhaustion, disappointment and excitement at celebrating Christmas on shifting snow (or sand, who knows with this year!).
The unexpected answer to prophecy
I think I mentioned doing this before, but I’m going to mention it again anyway. A year or two ago I read the Bible from cover to cover in chronological order. I would fully recommend this as a thing. As I did so, I spotted all these little hints to Jesus. Like those little Easter egg hints that Disney pepper their franchise with so nerds like me can go: “Ooh! Ooh! Look! I bet he’s totally gonna pop up in the next film.” With each one I spotted, I marked a little cross in the margin. Slowly but surely my Bible was peppered with them.
Quite a few of the crosses match up with details of the Christmas story. Bethlehem gets a mention, the virgin birth pops up (although this does seem a tenuous link in the context of the passage – but if it’s good enough for Matthew it’s good enough for me), there’s Nazareth and David and there’s even a little hint at foreign kings bringing gifts in the Psalms.
These threads come together beautifully in the Christmas story, but I doubt anybody could have seen them coming in the way they did without a generous helping of the gift of hindsight. Jesus was not the Messiah Israel expected. They were probably picturing a mighty king on a big horse who would smash up the Romans. Not a tiny baby, born to a poor young family in a backwater of the empire. He was not particularly the one they wanted either – enough that he was killed for his claims to the title.
I think we can learn from this. We might have neat ideas of who God is and how he works. We might have had prophecies spoken over us, or ideas of how we want our prayers to be answered. We might just be exhausted with all the twists and turns the past year has brought. It’s worth remembering God rarely moves in the way we expect, but that’s usually a good thing in the big picture.