At the center of the nativity picture is that baby in the manger.
That baby Jesus will be many more things as his life, death, resurrection and eternity continues but here in the straw, and central to everything he will do and be, he is a symbol of grace.
This is what Christianity boils down to. This is it at its most naked. Shed the tragedies of Christian history, the boredom of what you’ve experienced in Church (how was that possible!), the legalism that has oppressed your youth or whatever else has damaged your perspective of God and you are left with this amazing concept of grace.
Put most simply, grace is the “unmerited favor” of God.
This idea that swims against the tide of the first are first is this crazy notion that actually the last can be first because with God there are no tests, no trials and no interviews.
You are not loved because of what you are or what you have done butbecause of who God is and what he has done. Because God loved us this baby was born and without moving out of the nativity story you can get some good clues as to what he will do as a result of that love.
The invited guests give the game away. When God became human who gets in to have an audience?
In our first are first world you might expect the rich, the powerful and the religiously orthodox. Yet, here we find the shepherds. The dirty, smelly, not-going-to-synagogue-much shepherds. Look where they are.
These shepherds walk right into the presence of the most holy God. The God whose name the Jews cannot even speak.
With boldness, confidence and by invitation there they are.
Later in Jesus life there will come a moment when the Gospel declares the curtain of the temple was torn in two, when humanity could once more enter the holy of holies because of what this baby would grow up to do.
There is a wee hint right here. The shepherds walk through that curtain. Not far behind them are Magi from the east; yet again by grace alone.
There is little theological insight of a Judeo-Christian variety among these eastern mystic stargazers. Yet, there they are, bringing gifts for the king that they thought would be in the palace and yet found in the upside nature of his entire ministry, literally homeless!
This Christmas as you come to the center of the season, see the baby at the center of the scene and see the grace at the center of his
May that grace be yours this Christmas.
May you be aware of this most amazing of all truth that you are loved as you are, just like the shepherds and Magi before you.
Steve Stockman the minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and blogs regularly on the intersection of faith and culture at Soul Surmise, where this reflection first appeared.