"For unto us a child is born... and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
For their Sunday school project last week, my grandchildren decorated cookies with one of four sets of initials WC, MG, EF, and PP representing the four names of the coming Messiah mentioned by the prophet, Isaiah.
We've been practicing what those initials mean ever since.
Well," said one, "if you put an 'L' between the 'E' and the 'F'" it spells 'ELF'," the name of the movie we had seen the day before. But, by week's end, both children were rattling off the names like a theologian, and remembering their meaning besides.
"Isn't it amazing that Isaiah knew all about Jesus 700 years before he was born?" exclaimed their Sunday School teacher.
Yes, to children and grown-ups alike, the story of Jesus is amazing. Today, the first Sunday in the four-week prelude to Christmas we call Advent, seems like a good time to begin telling that story again.
"Nothing is known of the birth of Jesus beyond the New Testament," writes author, Jim Bishop in his classic, The Day Christ Was Born, "but it is a great and joyful story that needs no gilding." Although Bishop follows the Scriptural account of the "Day" without gilding, he adds social and historic information about that time and place to increase our understanding of this amazing and joyful event.
By Bishop's calculation, Joseph and Mary were teenagers, and part of Nazareth's middle class. We may call Joseph a "lowly carpenter" today, but his was a skilled and respected position. Had he been a shepherd, he would have taken his bride to a cave near the flocks. Instead, the young couple occupied a two-room, stone house in the village. The outer room served as Joseph's shop, while the living quarters in the back housed Mary, Joseph and the donkey. (The "friendly beast" idea may not have been just a songwriter's invention, after all.)
We know the rest of the story. Bathrobed shepherds, tinsel-haired angels, and a straw-filled creche have been part of our Christmas celebrations since we were children. Sometimes we also remember the boredom of hearing the same old story the same old way again and again, which is what happened to me one Christmas when I was responsible for planning our annual Sunday school pageant myself. That's when I began a custom I've continued every year since.
Instead of observing the story written or enacted by someone else, I imagine I am one of the characters in the story and try to understand Christmas from that person's point of view. Alternately I've been a startled shepherd, a seeking wise man, part of Mary's bewildered family, the frustrated innkeeper who wanted to do more for the young couple, or a cynical bystander in the crowd. This year, prompted by current world events, I'm looking at the story through the eyes of Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-7).
In those days, when an Emperor gave an order he expected it to be obeyed. No exceptions, not even for a woman about to deliver a child. What Caesar didn't know was that his order would play directly into a prior plan of God. No exceptions, not even when the "virgin who shall conceive" and the city where the Savior was prophesied to be born were 90 miles apart.
Empires had had economic problems and tax evaders before, and government strategies to reconcile the two. Caesar's strategy, that all his subjects travel to their city of origin to be registered, was actually a census telling his government where to send the tax bill. He had no idea his act to solve a single problem in just one kingdom would be part of a solution to all problems in all kingdoms of the world from that time on.
Caesar Augustus has had many counterparts. World leaders from the beginning of civilization to present-day America may think they have custody of their own people and influence over people and events in other parts of the world. But, like the mighty Caesar, they only play a role in what God has already planned and promised since the world began.
Even with the unrest in the world today, this news should bring a hosanna to our lips and peace to our hearts as we await the promised peace on an earth that is still under the earthmaker's control.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to seabara@ aol.com.)
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