Sunday, December 22, 2013

It has to be real! The dichotomy of the Nativity

As I was listening to our pastor's sermon this morning, I was struck with this wonderful thought: the dichotomy of Nativity.  I mean, Hollywood could have not written a better story.  Here's a young girl, probably in her teens, basically not married yet, but has gone through the various Jewish traditions and is almost married to Joseph, who is most likely much older than her, and she's probably his second wife, after the loss of his first wife to death via disease or childbirth.  We don't know much else about her except she has a cousin, is very, very poor, and most likely uneducated.  But she was Chosen by God to be the earthly mother to His Means of Grace.  Then Joseph, finding out she's, well, to put it in the modern vernacular, knocked up, and by "The Holy Spirit" (you can imagine Joseph thinking he'd been set up with some fanciful girl, not a sensible young woman), he decides to divorce her quietly.  Perhaps her father is his best friend, maybe even a relative.  He wants no shame for her or the family.  But he too is told of the importance of the baby, and he does the most responsible thing he can do: he takes her as his wife.  Obviously, they save face by moving away for a bit, which happens to coincide with the Romans taking a census, which is another way to tax the populace.  Joseph takes his pregnant teen wife on a donkey ride through roads that were treacherous, and highly dangerous, and they end up in Bethlehem.  Since everywhere they go has the "no vacancy" sign on it, they end up in a stable, full of cows and sheep. It's dark, smells, has animal crap all over, and she has to give birth with no midwife, nothing to ease the pain - and it's her first child as well.  Then, she takes swaddling cloths, which is basically strips of cloth, wraps the baby in the early spring chill night (Jesus' actual birth date was most likely mid-April).  Jesus, the King of Kings, the Savior of the World, the Light in the Darkness, the Christ, was born in abject poverty.  Now, I look at that and think to myself, why cannot someone believe in Jesus?  Historically we have enough evidence from both Roman and Hebrew writers that a movement came out of Palestine based on teachings of Jesus, and the followers of this movement were called "Christians".  So, to me, the evidence of this movement, coupled with the nature of this birth, give proof that Jesus existed, and more than that, WAS God and the Son of Man.  Face it, if you wanted to have a King's birth portrayed, would it be in a humble stable in abject poverty?  No.  The child would be of a royal bloodline, (which Jesus was, being a descended from King David), and born in great opulence.  Jesus wasn't.  That, alone, gives me this wonder of the dichotomy of His birth.  It isn't right, yet it is.  It calls on something deeper, something mystical.  It doesn't make sense, which to me, makes it real.  

The other dichotomy that I find in the Nativity is the one used by Benjamin Britten in his "Ceremony of Carols", in his last movement, "Deo Gracias", where he uses Medieval text that speaks of the of the apple being taken by Adam, and Mary being the one who reverses that event with her role in the birth of Christ.  Here is the text (and this is olde-English, 14th century, so the spelling is very different):

Deo Gracias!
Adam lay i-bounden
Bounden in a bond
Four-thousand winter thought he not too long
Deo Gracias!

And all was for an appil
An appil that he tooke
As clerkes finden, written in their book
Deo Gracias!

And neve' had that appil takke been, the appil takke been
Neve a lady would be a hevn'ly quene
Therefore we morn singing, singing, singing
Deo Gracias!

Again, we see something that does not make sense falling perfectly into God's plans.  He takes death itself and uses it to conquer death, and not physical death.  But the death that comes when we are not a part of God, a part of His Kingdom.  

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