Here a crowd stand around Sara Star's 'The Crowning.' This picture conjures in its viewer perhaps that same mixture of embarrassment and curiosity that God's original nativity still causes when its story is told.
We stood as Angels on our town's street and listened in the rain to a passionate account. There was no getting away, crowds were gathering behind us at the Kebab shop and still this girl continued, her friends stood around with gaping mouths, some rather amused, some a little embarrassed, imagining we had heard enough by now, hadn't we? But, no we were captured.
We were on a late night shift as Street Angels and she was quite young really for her life experiences, but telling us her birth story, the best and the most difficult thing that had ever happened to her at just seventeen years of age. She laughed and she even cried a little and then she got out her camera phone to show us pictures and we decided that her daughter was really very cute and the exact imprint of her.
Birth stories have to be told! Nativities are probably some of the most important stories that the people of our planet tell one another. Hers was told in clubbing clothes and after a few glasses of wine in a noisy street. Hers an announcement to Street Angels rather than the Angel's announcement from the skies. But a birth story was told.
And in kimonos and habibs and national dress and very little dress, in tea towels and rope belts, nativities are told.
Beware the person who tries to stop another from telling their birth story.
A birth story really must be told.
New birth, new life, whether literally or metaphorically... new homes, new lands, new vocations, new discoveries, it is all new life and its story must be told.
And so God's birth story must be told.
God wants to tell it... even if it's with tea towels and rope belts as is often the case at this time of year.
God tells it today as he did then, to anyone who will listen.
We are given the choice to cut the story short, to rather wince with a little embarrassment, with misunderstanding if we wish, to decide that we really do not want to hear it and be called away by the crowds. We can move on to listen to the stories of other people if we want to but for those of us who hear the passion of the narrative, who are impressed by God choosing to tell it to the foreigner, those Magi, and the unlovely, those shepherds, and feel ourselves a little unlovely and a little out of place at the best of times, there is something so compelling....a young girl and the best and most difficult time of her life.
A child born out of wedlock who would go from the wood of a manger to the rough wood of a cross and die to take away the sins of the world, and so this Mary who treasures God's birth story in her heart, hopes for the day when the whole world might hear it.
In Luke's account, a few shepherds are the first. Making their way to her and to have this story corroborated, they look down into the hay in a noisy stable and we are able to say with them and the author of Hebrews: Oh wow – just look at him – Oh Mary, well done. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being. Just look at him. And we are then given the story of his life in this book, we get to see him grow up, it's like Mary also shared her album with us or all the images on her camera phone, and as we look at his life here, we are invited by the album's author, the Holy Spirit, to join our own lives with his.
And so the difference here to any other normal human birth story, that people come to understand as the gift of faith grows in them, is that this is like no other birth story told anywhere by any other other person on this planet.
This birth story is not just God's that has to be told. This Jesus is not just born of Him and Mary, this Jesus is born in us all if we ask for that to be so, and sometimes in joy and sometimes through difficulty, this birth can happen to us and become our birth story too. "Flesh gives birth to flesh, and Spirit gives birth to spirit.” John tells us. “Do not be surprised.” (John 3:6, 7).
And so his birth story becomes ours again and then again, first when we say yes to him and then at the end of our earthly lives, when a new birth becomes ours, into eternal life.
And so we must tell this birth story...
God's and ours...
….the greatest birth story of all, the original nativity, we must tell it to anyone who will listen – they are likely to be both foreign and unlovely, after all we were and are those things and it is a story he has announced to us. Amen.