Christmas Eve: Psalm 96 & Luke 1.1-20

From John Zuhone

If you've been a Christian for a long time, you've probably heard Luke 2 a gazillion times: from pulpits, Charlie Brown Christmas specials, and children's plays on Christmas Eve. It's a little too familiar to us--so familiar that we usually forget how crazy the story actually is.

Poor Mary and Joseph start off on the wrong foot already, with her pregnant with a child that is obviously not his. Who is really going to believe this "conceived by the Holy Spirit" stuff? Next, the two of them are dragged off to Bethlehem to get registered just so those pagan Romans can tax them. When they get there, they can't even find a proper place to sleep, so they have to bunk with farm animals. Think about how stressful, dangerous, and (let's face it) gross birthing a baby can be even today, with all of our modern comforts, and just imagine what their experience was like. The whole thing just sounds exhausting and terrifying.

We may think that since they had both talked to angels, they must have known everything would be all right. But if they were anything like us (and there's no reason to think they weren't), they probably still had lots of questions, fears, and doubts. THIS is how YHWH fulfills his promise to Israel to send a Messiah? It's a far cry from his previous interventions. No pillar of cloud by day or pillar of fire by night here--the sign is a fragile, crying, burping baby. And who invites sheep herders to a royal birth anyway? It's not surprising that St. Luke tells us that Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." She had a lot to think about.

God was up to something bigger than they could comprehend. They couldn't have imagined that they were caught up in God's awesome plan to not only redeem Israel and save them from their sins, but to expand the boundaries of God's chosen people by extending forgiveness to all the world through Jesus's death and resurrection. The psalm for today, Psalm 96, anticipates this, exhorting all nations to worship the Lord.

God is often working in our own lives in unexpected ways, but he is working nonetheless. The story of Christmas calls us to learn how to trust him even in the midst of seasons of chaos and doubt, knowing that in Christ he has redeemed us and is in the process of making all things new.

Lord Jesus, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts that we may hear the story of your birth afresh.

I’m an astrophysicist at the Harvard Observatory, studying galaxy clusters and X-ray astronomy. I enjoy spending time with my wife, having good conversation with friends, reading books, and playing the occasional Mario game.