The Christmas Trinity

December 29th, 2015

The Nativity story is a play in three acts revealing to us God’s essence. In the first act Luke sets the story squarely in a real place and time. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke starts at the top with Caesar because in those days the world was his. “This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” He then moves down the chain of command to Quirinius, someone of less significance, but someone with enough authority to govern the land. Augustus and Quirinius get things done. Everyone is going to his or her homeland to register with occupying Rome so that they might pay the appropriate tax, have their whereabouts recorded with the authorities, and just to remind them who is in charge. Mary and Joseph travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph is from the house of David. Little does Caesar know that in executing his earthy authority, prophecy about the Messiah is coming true.

Mary and Joseph find no room in the inn, so Mary gives birth to Jesus outdoors among the animals. It’s almost as if we are hearing a new creation story. In the beginning when the earth was a void, God’s spirit hovered over the waters, and now through the waters of the womb, a child conceived by that same Spirit inhales the Spirit for his first life-giving breath. God first created light and now this light is alive, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate Deity,” as Charles Wesley reminds us in “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.” This first act is about the Incarnation, the second part of the Trinity, how God put on flesh to dwell among us so that we might see God. 

Then the scene changes. Interestingly, Jesus’ birth is not announced in the palace. Luke continues descending the economic ladder so that the audience is swept away into the fields with shepherds. On the one hand this is terrible storytelling. You’ve already introduced Caesar and his authority. It makes perfect sense to take the audience back to where the play started, and announce to Caesar the birth of God’s own Son. But this is not penned to make sense; rather the Gospel is remembered in order to turn the world upside down. An angel appears before shepherds in the field, the third shift workers, those with little political value and even less economic strength. The angel announces, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” In other words, in those days this was Caesar’s world, but on this day, God is turning everything upside down for all of the right reasons. Then a host of angels praise God saying, “Glory to God in the highest!” Here is a child born in the lowliest place on earth, literally 856 feet below sea level, and yet the angels tell about God’s glory reaching up to the heavens. In other words, Christ assumes all of creation. Christ fulfills Psalm 139 when the Psalmist says, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there. If I make my bed in the depths you are there.” This second act is about how God, our creator, the first person of the Trinity, is beginning to recreate and redeem creation itself. 

The scene changes again. The shepherds run with haste to see the child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in a manger. When they arrive they tell Mary and Joseph everything the angels said, all who heard it were amazed, and Mary treasured and pondered their words in her heart. In other words, they began to tell the story. They began to share their experience. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who rested among the disciples on the day of Pentecost, is already moving among humanity to share the great joy and profound love of God. This is more than a birthday story. This is more than a midnight hustling to get last-minute stocking stuffers. This is more than mistletoe and eggnog and semester breaks and red cups. This is the day when the fullness of God was pleased to dwell upon the earth, when the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of life, the Idea, the Word, and the Inspiration of God covered all of creation so that we might know love, so that we might trust in hope, so that we might have the faith to move the mountains and palaces of the world, so that we might know how to live and how to die, so that we might live again with God.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

Matt Rawle blogs at He is the author of The Salvation of Doctor WhoHollywood Jesus and The Faith of a Mockingbird.

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