Maybe like me you enjoy Once Upon A Time on Sunday nights, the 21st century version of beloved fairytales spun together with the familiar ingredients of a great story — good, evil, redemption, and of course, magic — mixed together with the 21st century additive: ANYTHING GOES, and laced with the alluring promise of “and they all lived happily ever after.”
Fascinating, isn’t it? For centuries stories have been written depicting epic battles between good and evil where heroes and heroines, against great odds, usually with the help of the marginalized and the misfit, narrowly save the day–and the world.
Maybe you’ve noticed, the Christmas Story contains these familiar ingredients. The scene opens with Mary, a young girl – maybe 14 or 15 years old – being visited by an angel. Like most heroines, she’s the least likely candidate. She has no social status, she’s poor, and unwed. Gabriel, the angel, announces that Mary has been chosen by Most High God to bear his son, a great king, whose name will be Jesus. Recognizing the impossibility, Mary wonders aloud, “How can this be? I’m a virgin.” Gabriel explains, “God’s Spirit will come upon you and you will bear his son.” A miracle of enormous proportion.
Put yourself in her shoes.
Besides being otherworldly, this scene is as remarkable as Mary’s response, especially considering her age and lowly station in life. She submits herself to God’s will despite the mind-numbing implications, and soon after sings a song of praise that belies her youth. Beautifully, poetically, she recognizes that the baby she carries is her Savior, the hope of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah.
The story of redemption has been building since the beginning of time and reaches a climax in Bethlehem, in a stable, far away in a manger. Only the angels and some shepherds burst forth in fields as the stars danced across the sky. Christ has come, the newborn King! Little does Mary know, however, the pain and suffering that will accompany her joy — from his very earthy and usual birth to his violent and sacrificial death, to his victorious death-defeating resurrection.
He is coming again, “Oh come, oh come Immanuel….”
So, as you deck the halls, roast chestnuts over your fire-pit, as you “hark the herald angels sing” and proclaim with your kids and Aunt Izzetta, “Hallelujah Christ is born!” remember, the Christmas story is not a clever fairytale read by certain church-going people once a year. Oh no. This story is firmly rooted in history – salvation history, its author is the Most High God, its details record the journey of very real people and a very personal and powerful Savior, and points to a very sure and steadfast hope.