Remember the old joke, “what does the rocket have at the end of its foot? A mistletoe!” Actually, the mistletoe was celebrated by ancient Scandinavians as a symbol of peace and tranquility. It was hung over doorways to tell all who entered that this was a place of peace. In more recent years it has become a part of Christmas celebrations with a similar meaning. Catching someone who stands under a mistletoe is a license to kiss that person.
In the fourth century A. D. a Turkish man in the town where Nicholas was a priest had three daughters who were of the age for marriage, but he was unable to find suitable husbands for them because he had no money to pay for their expected dowry. Nicholas saw the man’s misfortune and secretly threw three bags of gold through the chimney of the man’s home– one for each of the girls. As fortune would have it, the girls had lain their stockings by the fireplace to dry, and the coins fell into the stockings. The girls were able to marry because of the kindness of Nicholas. Nicholas had acted in secret, but his act of kindness was discovered. As the legend of St. Nicholas grew, the children would hope that Nicholas would leave them something.
It is probably the merging of fact and fiction that does the most harm to our faiths. Christmas is fun and exciting for all of us, but we sometimes mistake fiction for fact. We forget that Santa Claus is found in many different cultures, not just Christian communities. Even predominately non-Christian societies celebrate Christmas, not because of its connection to Christ, but the joy of giving. We are like one of Tennessee Williams’ play, “I don’t want realism…I want magic!”
We get caught up in a lot of things that really aren’t important. There always seems to be a debate about whether or not Mary was a virgin. Pulpit Committees will base the call of a pastor on whether or not the pastor believes in the virgin birth. Mary’s personal life has very little to do with the birth of Christ. Certainly she was highly favored by God, but so was King David.
It has less to do with being sinful than it does with relationship with God. I am sure there were lots of waggling tongues in Nazareth when Joseph took his very pregnant wife and headed off to Bethlehem. But the story isn’t about Mary or Joseph. “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. The issue of the virgin birth was never an issue until about 400 years ago. If you elevate Mary to a standing higher than human, you have to justify her actions. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:16) Paternity is established, it doesn’t matter who the mother really was!
Some people get all concerned about the fact that we don’t know the real birth date of Jesus. We do know it wasn’t December 25. We know two things:
The angels appearance with Mary takes place in the 6th month – probably August or September. When Jesus is born, the shepherds are out in the fields at night, watching their flocks – this is something that takes place only in the warmer months. This mostly likely means that Jesus was born late spring or early summer. But the day really isn’t what is important, is it?
As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38)
We modern people like a predictable, cause-effect sort of world. I recall a line from the off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks: Plant a carrot, get a carrot, not a brussels sprout. That’s why I like vegetables: You know what they are about.
In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.
What is told to Mary is not for Mary’s benefit, but ours. It is not about whether Joseph and Mary are good enough to be parents. It is a story about God’s love for us!
You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. Perhaps John said it best, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16) No wonder the angels sung out, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
May we never lose the real meaning of Christmas. It is about God, God’s gift to sinful humanity. For nothing is impossible with God.” Mary said. “May it be to me as you have said.”