Christmas lived on the margins
Gospel for December 24, 2016
By Glen Argan
The story of the birth of Jesus as told in Luke’s Gospel (2.1-20) is perhaps the most beloved story in the entire Bible. Even in our secularized world, how can we celebrate Christmas without listening once again to this evocative story of our Saviour’s birth?
“O little town of Bethlehem / How still we see thee lie / Above thy deep and dreamless sleep / The silent stars go by.”
How do we separate the homey images of Hallmark cards and age-old carols from the Gospel story? Or, should we? I think we should. The scene has become overly romanticized into a saccharine scene that cuts sharply against the grain of Luke’s prophetic Gospel.
Everything in this story speaks of marginalization. Caesar Augustus’ decree stands in sharp contrast with the Jesus who descended from the Jewish king David. This new king was wrapped in bands of cloth – a reminder of a burial – and laid in an eating trough for animals.
It is the shepherds of all people, those forgotten ones who are nevertheless leading and caring for their sheep, who receive first notice of the messiah’s arrival. It is shepherding, not military pageants, that will be the sign of the king lain in the manger.
The multitude of heavenly host come out to praise this lowly king – Luke must say again that he was wrapped in bands of cloth and laid in a manger – to praise him in a way beyond the praise granted to Caesar.
When Luke wrote his Gospel, Christianity was still a tiny shoot, bereft of political power, likely unheard of by most. Yet, it had a universal mission. By the end of part two of Luke’s Gospel – the Acts of the Apostles – the Good News had been planted in the centre of the military empire, in Rome itself.
The small band that made up The Way were no political rival to the Roman Empire nor were they intended to be. But they were a rival of sorts, a witness that the power of love and the inclusion of all were over the long run stronger than the mightiest empire ever seen.
Over time, Christianity came to occupy the halls of power. But power has its own logic and, pushed to its limits, has no room for the logic of love.
Today, Christianity in the Western world is back on the margins, back in the stable on the outskirts of Bethlehem. It is a better place for us. We were not meant to rule the world, but to transform it from within.
That mission calls us not to a deep and dreamless sleep, but to be wide awake, shepherds on the watch for all kinds of danger, all the while preparing to give glory to God.
[Readings: Isaiah 9.2-4, 6-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2.11-14; Luke 2.1-16]
[Photo courtesy of Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints]