We all long for a rich Christmas. When I was 19 I can remember praying for the “Best Christmas Ever.” Even in our less sentimental moments, we know there is something magical about a quiet Christmas Eve. But the holidays race past us. When that holy night comes, we wonder if we will ever get to the Story. We get caught up in between the rush from church to shopping, from eating to wrapping. This little devotional wants to help, by offering the Nativity story bit by bit, on the nine-day approach up to the big night.
This is a paraphrase, a contemplative paraphrase. I’m not sure if that’s ever been done; is there anything new? A paraphrase is a translation from the original language that tries to capture meaning and make it readable, versus getting things word for word. It is contemplative because of the ways I have translated a few words and because what I had in mind in the process. For those of you interested, I sentenced diagramed each verse in the original Greek. Then I translated the meaning of the sentences as readable as possible. To slow things down, I kept the original names of the characters (so Mary is Mariam, Zechariah is Zachariah, and Jesus…well I kept him Jesus; you don’t mess with Jesus). I also had the long Christian tradition of contemplative spirituality in mind. You should see that come through.
This devotional is meant to be read – not for information about the Nativity – but for its power to locate you within the story. Contemplative reading helps you discover the God’s work in your life and in the life of your community.
So how do you do this? Start with five – or so – minutes of silence. Let your spirit calm like a glass full of muddy water. When the silt of worry and anxiety falls some, read the texts slowly. Notice the words or phrases that stick out at you. Underline them. Write them down. Then reflect on what you have gone through today. How do they match-up? Carry these words with you into the situations you have yet to face. And in this instance, pray that the message of the Nativity sheds light on God’s work in your life and community this Christmas.
Day one (December 16) is a read through the whole of the text, a dress rehearsal. I also put in some reflections by the Church Fathers. They should offer some interesting insights into the texts. For those of you who are up to it, include their thoughts in your reflections. For those of you who want to stick with the bible, you can skip over them. That’s why I put them after the note-taking section.
One last word about the church Fathers and Mothers: these men and women were the first to walk the Christian road. They lived before Christianity became popular. They struggled through their own Christmas seasons and lived between the close of the New Testament and about 400 AD. It is amazing that we still have their words with us.
But they were not all Spiritual Masters. And they lived in a different time. I have left out some of the more difficult material, like their thoughts on women, gentiles, and Jews. We have come to a new place in our day. But we must not judge them for their limitations. We should learn from them and try and move beyond their shortcomings. They were not as interested as we are in the historical aspects of the texts. This is not to say that they had history wrong. They were, after all, living 1700 years closer to the Nativity than we are. They were more interested in the deeper meaning of the texts and in Jesus’ nature as a god-man. Again, we can learn a lot from them while trusting in our discoveries since. When it all comes out in the wash, I’m not sure we will be too far from their rusty conclusions.
We only have three commentaries on Luke left from the early days. I included excerpts from them here. One of those commentaries has only been translated into English once, and that was a hundred years ago. I have made subtle changes to the text, like putting in dashes to help you read it. But other than changing some punctuation and updating “thou’s” to “you’s”, I have left the text alone. It actually has inspired me to work through the fathers in their original language.
For the commentaries, I used:
- Ambrose, Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Translated by Íde M. Ní Riain, 2001.
- Origen, Homilies on Luke. Translated by Joseph T. Lienhard, 1996.
- Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary Upon the Gospel According to St. Luke, 1859.
Well, you should be set for the journey. I hope this little tool helps you slow down this Christmas and inspires you to listen to God just a little more. We all have a long way to go, during the holidays, to keep our eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of our faith, the baby swaddled in a feeding-trough.
Keith M. Jagger