The Bible is filled with good stories, and those surrounding the
birth of Jesus are among the best and best beloved. Stories are
able to reach us in a way that abstract theologizing often cannot.
There is a plot line; there are good guys and bad guys; and, despite
difficulties, things turn out in the end. But Bible stories have
a potential downside. If we focus primarily on the story, as story,
we may miss the message it was intended to convey. And we can be
scandalized when someone suggests that the details may not be strictly
There are several messages in the Christmas stories, but basically
they all are Gospels in miniature. God has come among us in human
form. That incredible reality is proclaimed to various audiences
and elicits a two-fold response. Some accept and come to worship
their newly recognized Lord, while others, especially those in authority,
reject the news and seek to take the life of the one who, because
of what He is, threatens their positions. But God rescues Jesus
in the end. God wins; good triumphs.
It is easy to see how this broad outline fits not only the life,
death, and resurrection of the adult Jesus, but the Christmas stories
as well. In the Gospel for today’s feast, the identity of
Jesus is revealed to the Magi through their astrological craft;
they respond with joy and come to the keepers of God’s special
revelation to Israel to find out the details; these same keepers,
who have had the privilege of that special revelation, nevertheless
reject Jesus and conspire to kill Him; but God rescues Him by sending
Him down into Egypt, from whence he will bring Him back, just as
Moses brought the Israelite people back from Egypt.
These stories, as with all stories of God’s triumphs, are
meant not simply as encouragement, but to challenge us as well.
In the Eastern churches the feast of the Epiphany focuses primarily
on the baptism of Jesus, at which point, as the three Synoptic Gospels
attest, God revealed to all who had ears to hear that Jesus was
his beloved Son. But whether we focus on that proclamation occurring
at the outset of Jesus’ adult ministry or in the infancy stories,
the challenge to us is the same. If we really grasped who Jesus
is, we would have to change. Remember that the keepers of the revelation
whom the Magi consulted thought they had the inside track. So do
we Christians. Smugness and complacency are never safe positions
when God is in the story.