Monday, December 24, 2012

best part of the christmas story


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 the name of 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 gone with 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.  I probably would've landed smack on TOP of King Herod's palace.

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--I believe this because every time they show up in the Bible, 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 scratchy 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 feasting. 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 later, when the Magi visit, King Herod goes mad with jealousy when he hears of prophecy fulfilled and a bunch of baby boys under the age of 3 get whacked. Incidentally, when the Magi visit, King Herod calls in the temple brain pool who agree that yes, Bethlehem is where the King of the World would be born, but they don't follow the Magi to visit, either.  Heck, they don't even send along an apprentice scribe to report back what the Magi end up finding.  I suspect the truth was and still is that rich and powerful people would've felt threatened or defensive by God's coming.  I argue that pride's the deadliest sin, the biggest barrier between man and God.

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, the third shift shepherds marveling in turn as we all do at a newborn's tiny perfection.

When they leave, they head straight downtown to tell everyone they could find of what they saw and heard. The reaction on the streets was "amazement."

In that first Christmas, God reveals himself to ordinary people, folks literally on the fringe of society. The guys alone in the fields watching animals on the outskirts of town.  The shepherds weren't important by society's standards, but they welcomed the announcement with enthusiasm.  The scholars, the pious leaders, the rich and powerful were too hampered by pride or greed to acknowledge His gift.  God knows who needs His promise and Jesus was born in a cold, dark cave for exactly those people--people with nothing to offer, nothing to lose. Christmas is about grace, humility and goodwill, love--the hard kind of love to folks who don't return it in kind and usually don't deserve it in the first place. Religion hasn't remained true to these ideals, but if you read the Bible's version closely you'll find the truth in the Christmas. Only someone divine would 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--God only wants people to believe and be amazed.  Just like the shepherds were.

Joy to the world!  First announced by a heavenly host to shepherds watching over their flocks by night.  If I was God, I would've worked it a whole lot differently--and that's what makes the Christmas story awesome.


  1. While your descriptions and personal interjections made me laugh, this whole post brought tears to my eyes. (seriously, you have me crying here)
    It is such a beautiful love story, isn't it? The greatest love of all. And you spoke it so perfectly.
    Thank you for this post. YES, to all of it.

    I hope you and your gorgeous family have a very blessed and merry Christmas!

  2. Very good. It really is amazing what God has given us, and so often we reject the gift.
    Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year to you and your family.


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