As a history buff, I'm well aware of the horrible and disturbing things people have done in the name of religion--including and in particular my favorite Christmas baby. History provides a great case against the belief that people are basically good and badness is an anomaly. Still, every year when I read the Christmas story in Luke 1-2, the part that amazes me is how God chose to come to earth.
I mean, come on, the God of the Universe. Creator of all things. Divine, holy, righteous, perfect, omniscient and all-powerful. If it were me, I'd have chosen a more comfortable route--perhaps descending from the clouds and immediately reclining on the nearest jewel-encrusted throne. My entrance would've been flashy--with an entourage of heavenly host and lots of human genuflecting in my direction.
But God chooses a young teenager from a podunk farm town to carry His son to term. He antes up a step-dad who is a carpenter by trade, the original Joe Six-Pack.
Grand entrance? Before going into labor, Mary schleps to Bethlehem for some stupid government census (and if she hadn't have gotten knocked up by the Holy Spirit, she could've stayed home, but because of her condition and saving social face she has to accompany her intended to his ancestral home). The town is mobbed with people obeying Cesar's command and Joseph gets turned away--no place to stay. (Remember, this is Joseph's ancestral home--were the relatives too shocked by his pregnant teenaged fiancee to let them sleep in the back room? I always wonder...)
But! There's a barn, says the guy running the local brothel (an "inn" in Biblical times is NOT the modern-day equivalent of a Best Western). Go out back and take that empty stall. Luke doesn't tell us, but I bet the guy charged Joseph anyway--that's human nature, isn't it?
While Mary is pushing and straining to get the Lord of the Universe through her birth canal, angels are gearing up overhead. Angels must look like something humans cannot fathom--every time they show up, the first thing they always have to tell people is Don't be afraid. Jesus comes forth--Joseph wipes his brow with relief and Mary leans back exhausted and sweaty against a pile of straw.
And a heavenly host descends.
Here's my absolute favorite part of the story: the angels don't show up in Herod's throne room or scare the crap out of Cesar Augustus while he's eating dinner. They don't announce the birth of the Lord of the Universe to rich people or powerful people, temple scholars or the High Priest. Nope, they present the big birth announcement to shepherds, working in the fields that night. All of God's glorious bragging about the birth of His only son is sung out to a bunch of guys working third shift on the outskirts of town.
We know from reading on that Herod goes mad with jealousy when he hears of prophecy fulfilled and a bunch of baby boys under the age of 3 get whacked. I imagine the rich and powerful person would've felt threatened or defensive by God's coming.
But ordinary folk, farmhands in the hillside of Bethlehem react quite differently. They immediately rush to the barn behind the brothel and find Jesus--I like to imagine their appearance.
Quietly and awkwardly they enter the stall and inquire--was a baby just born? A boy? Is it the Christ? Mary holds out the bundle of red-faced infant wrapped in rags, Joe Six-Pack steps aside and lets them take turns holding the baby, marveling in turn as we all do at a newborn's tiny perfection.
When they leave, they head straight into town to tell everyone they could find of what they saw and heard. The reaction on the streets was "amazement."
God reveals himself to ordinary people, folks literally on the fringe of society. The scholars, the pious leaders, the rich and powerful are too hampered by pride or greed to acknowledge His gift. He knows who needs His promise and He showed up for exactly those people--people with nothing to offer, nothing to lose. Christmas is about humility and goodwill, love--the hard kind of love to folks who don't return it in kind and often don't deserve it in the first place. Religion hasn't always remained true to these ideals, but if you read the story closely you'll find the truth in the Christmas. Only someone divine could set aside all their power and glory to save lost souls and love them no matter what--no working for it, no earning it, no ritual, no sacrifice--just believing. If I was God, I'd work it a whole lot differently--and that's what makes the Christmas story awesome.