There’s a saying, ‘It’s not what you do, but the way that you do it.’ This is particularly appropriate when it comes to the Christmas story. In so many parts of our lives, the way that we do things says far more about us than the actions themselves. There is a world of difference between a graciously given gift and a grudgingly given one - even if the gift itself is exactly the same.
The bare fact of the Christmas story - according to Christian tradition - is that God’s son was born in a human family. There were many stories in ancient mythologies of gods having children. The thing that makes the birth of Jesus stand out is the way that it happened. The demi-gods of Greek and Roman myth were the result of assaults and affairs by arrogant and manipulative deities. The story of Jesus’ birth, however, throws a very different light on the author of the Universe.
Putting aside the iconic images of a stable, a donkey, a kindly innkeeper and a star that could be seen even in daylight (these are all later, European embellishments), consider the baby, wrapped in strips of cloth, and lying in an animals’ food trough because there was no space in the house.
There are indeed a few remarkable and miraculous events in this story: an army of angels appeared, but only a handful of shepherds saw them; a significant star was spotted in the eastern sky, but only by a small group of mystics. Mostly, the story of Jesus’ birth is remarkably unremarkable.
One important detail is generally taken for granted: that Jesus was born in the middle of the night. A world-changing event was happening in Bethlehem, and 99.9% of the people in the neighbourhood were fast asleep at the time.
It’s not what you do; its the way that you do it. God did the most remarkable thing in human history so quietly that almost nobody noticed it had happened.
At Christmas time we are highly sensitised to the many traumas in our world. It is natural for us to ask what God is doing about such things. In answer to that question: whatever God is doing, he is almost certainly doing it very quietly, because that’s the way God does things.