21st December

He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:5-7)

Having spent so long constructing the background, when it comes to Christ’s birth, we might consider Luke’s version of events here an anti-climax. Perhaps this is deliberate so that what follows appears more significant. No dramatic entry for this baby (still unnamed); Christ slips into the world almost imperceptibly, in unexpected, even shocking circumstances. Joseph heads to Bethlehem for the census with Mary, who we are reminded, is only betrothed to him (v.5) Questions would probably still have been going through Joseph’s mind as to why this had happened to them. Mary’s being betrothed and pregnant would have appeared disgraceful. Perhaps we would better translate the end of this verse “betrothed but/yet pregnant” to capture this.

Yet, it had to happen like this to fulfil the Scriptures. A more literal translation of the phrase rendered “the time came” (v.6) would be “the days were (ful)filled”. Bizarre as it seems, it is all about fulfilment. This son is extraordinary. We might question why Luke includes the descriptor “firstborn” (v.7) given Mary is a virgin. The idea of the “firstborn” emerges powerfully elsewhere in the New Testament though: especially in Colossians 1:15-18, where the Son is described as “the firstborn of all creation” and “the firstborn from the dead”.

Despite the Son’s majesty, his start in life is humble. No riches here; he is merely placed in a crib; there was no place (topos) in the local B+B for them. Although religion remains topical in the news – often, regrettably, for negative reasons – some of us who consider ourselves Christians might feel that a faith in Christ is being squeezed out. I sometimes think that secular society has little place for Christ. Yet, sometimes, I also recognise that there is too little place in my heart to receive this firstborn Son, the Son of God, the firstborn over all creation, amid other distractions. When we give him the central place, though, all is well.

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