So on this day 2012 years ago, Jesus was born, right? Wrong. Jesus couldn't have been born any later than 4 BC because the Bible said it was during the reign of Herod the Great, and it couldn't have been winter because shepherds were out minding the flock, and even a shepherd isn't fool enough to do that in December. But there were three wise men, right? Well, possibly. The Bible just says wise men, it doesn't specify the number. People think it's three because there are three gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh - but there might have been four wise men or forty. There might have been two wise men, and if there were, I bet one of them felt like a chump for bringing myrrh when the other one brought gold and frankincense.
Anyway. My point in mentioning all this is to point out Christmas isn't what we think it is, and it never was.
The Jews had been waiting for Christmas for about three thousand years. Back when they were in Egypt, there were these prophets saying, "A savior is coming, a savior is coming!" And they'd say, "Is it Moses?" "No, Moses is pretty good, but this guy is going to be even better."
And then they were fighting the Philistines, a prophet would pop up and say, "A savior is coming, a savior is coming!" "Is it David?" "No flies on David, but this guy is even better! Just wait!" And then the Babylonian Captivity and "A savior is coming!" "Is it Daniel?" "Daniel's all well and good, but this guy - watch out!" The Romans. "A savior is coming!" "John the Baptist?" "Hey, buddy, I'm not even shoe level with the savior, he's the real deal!"
Naturally, with all this build-up, everyone was expecting a lot more hooplah. They figured the sky would open up and there'd be an army with angels riding fiery horses or elephants or elephant angels and trumpets blaring and drums beating and smoke and lightning and stuff like that there. Instead what did they get? A Jewish girl and her husband, delivering the baby in transit, not even able to find a decent place to stay for the night. Nativity scenes always show the manger as somehow perfectly crib-size, like whoever built mangers had in the back of his mind it might need to double as a baby bed. As far as I can make out, a manger is a sort of a trough, and I never saw a trough that was the right size for a baby unless it was maybe Abraham Lincoln. A manger is a place you don't put a kid unless there's absolutely nowhere else to put him, and you don't want him rolling around on the straw where the poop is.
So instead of a combination of war-hero and matinee idol, this was the savior, which I guess makes sense. There's nothing much on earth would impress God, and he wouldn't see any need for pyrotechnics just to impress us. If God incarnate walks the earth, he doesn't need to go around carrying a sparkler.
Lots of people are waiting for Jesus to come back, and go around saying, "Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming!" This time, they claim, it won't be like the last time, he's be coming in "great glory," which sort of makes you think they were disappointed by the first time or maybe they figure they'd have missed it if there hadn't been at least one angel on an elephant or an earthquake at the very least. But I'm not so sure. I'm not saying Jesus is coming, but if he is, judging from past experience, it won't be what we expect. God's idea of glory and ours don't match up very well. I figure if Jesus comes back, he'll be born in a bus station. His parents will be migrant workers. They'll put him in an orange crate.
The next time won't be what we expect. Christmas isn't what we think it is and never was.