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Christmas Reflection From Chapters 17 & 18 of the Proto Gospel of James

Posted: 23 Dec 2018

From Chapters 17 & 18 of the Proto Gospel of James

When they came to the middle of the journey, Mary said to him, "Joseph, take me off the donkey, the child is pushing from within me to let him come out." So he took her off the donkey and said to her, "Where will I take you and shelter you in your awkwardness? This area is a desert." 
And he found a cave and led her there and stationed his sons to watch her, while he went to a find a Hebrew midwife in the land of Bethlehem. Then, Joseph wandered, but he did not wander. And I looked up to the peak of the sky and saw it standing still and I looked up into the air. With utter astonishment I saw it, even the birds of the sky were not moving. And I looked at the ground and saw a bowl lying there and workers reclining. And their hands were in the bowl. And chewing, they were not chewing. And picking food up, they were not picking it up. And putting food in their mouths, they were not putting it in their mouths. Rather, all their faces were looking up. And I saw sheep being driven, but the sheep were standing still. And the shepherd lifted up his hand to strike them, but his hand remained above them. And I saw the rushing current of the river and I saw goats and their mouths resting in the water, but they were not drinking. And suddenly everything was replaced by the ordinary course of events.

Before anyone says anything……Yes, I know this isn’t in the bible. And, I don’t use this text in a canonical sense. Rather, I use this as a means to reflect on what this season means to me.

It is all to easy, I think, to get caught up in the hype of the lead up to today- Christmas day- and forget the story that goes behind it. But more than that to forget that these events are something “other”. Something that doesn’t sit easily with the world of today; something that defies our logic and understanding; something beautiful and unexpected.

And I think this is what draws me to this reading from the Proto-Gospel of James. There is a sense here of the world and universe knowing the moment our Lord’s birth, despite the text indicating it’s “hidden-ness”. That moment when all of time comes to a stop, as if the universe paused to take a breath; to gasp in amazement at the miracle being wrought in a cave. It is as if all of history and all of the future came rushing together as time and space were squeezed in the hand of God for but a moment. A moment where, as John Lynch writes:

A cry came out that had not been heard before.

The beat of pulses and the hush of heart

had made silence more intent within

Surrounding silence. Deepening of night.

The last pure poise of prayer, more still and wordless

In utter distillate or prayer.

Starlight moving imperceptibly.

The drift of time. And then a moment’s fall,

The last of that we should know of lonliness.

A sigh, unheard within the dark, and then…….

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.

This is what I love about Christmas, and as I write I can feel the emotion welling up within me. It is a season of Joy but more than that it is a season of humility. A season where the greatness of God comes rushing into the ordinary in utter one-ness with the creation. Not with bravado and chest beating but in humility as a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Humility, indeed, that the universe noticed and stopped for.