One of my go-to lines when teaching or preaching has always been “it didn’t have to be this way.” It is the kind of saying that stirs us from the complacency we usually take with the gospel, faith, and our response to both. “Jesus did not have to call disciples. He could have done it all on his own,” I would say. Or more appropriate for this time of year: “Jesus did not have to be born a baby in a manger and take on our humanity. He could have remained a distant deity.” Often, the provocative statement will garner a raised eyebrow, a question or two, and in some cases will fill a Sunday School hour with conversation.
We take these things for granted precisely because they are so familiar. They seem inevitable because they happened. We neglect to consider that God’s plan for salvation and relationship with humanity could have happened by any other means. “Of course, Jesus was born in a manger.” This feeling of inevitability is so powerful that we frequently forget that Mark’s gospel lacks a birth narrative entirely and that John’s gospel has a very different vision of the Christ, the Word, becoming flesh. More than that, we conflate the stories we encounter in Matthew and Luke into one, all encompassing, narrative.
My point here is not to diminish Jesus’s birth. It is to do the opposite - Jesus’s birth, this incarnation of God with us, matters immensely because this is how God chose to come close to humanity. It matters because Christmas did happen. Theoretically, God could have related to humanity in another way. God could have redeemed creation by another means. God is God after all. That God chose this path - Jesus Christ, the incarnation, Christmas, the earthly ministry, the cross, and Easter resurrection - says something profound. Perhaps it adds significance to a season and a day that have become too familiar.
As you celebrate Advent and Christmas this year, do not take this time for granted. Celebrate the wonder, mystery, and hope of God with us in Jesus Christ.
Rev. Tim Blodgett