Freedom New Mexico
It is curious in some ways that modern-day Western Christians have created a more lavish holiday — which in many ways has become a thoroughly secular and in some ways excessive celebration in which Santa Claus and Rudolph play a larger role than the baby in the manger — of the birth of Jesus than of the life of Jesus or even the more theologically significant death and resurrection of Jesus.
Only two of the four Gospels even mention the birth, and while they are roughly consistent with one another they highlight different details.
It is extremely doubtful the birth took place in December. But while changing customs down through the centuries have brought us Christmas in its present form, it is still possible to discern just how unusual were the circumstances through which the man whom Christians believe to be the savior of all humankind came into the world.
What is striking is how thoroughly the story confounds the conventional thinking of the world and the worldly about who and what are important and what constitutes real power and the hope of salvation.
Although Matthew tells us of three Magi or wise men from the East who had received mysterious prophecies about an important new king, they did not find him in the palaces of the powerful as might have been expected. Instead he was born in the humblest of circumstances — an old cave or grotto is designated in modern-day Bethlehem — his parents having been turned away even from conventional inns, and laid in a manger.
According to Luke, his birth was greeted not by the rich and powerful of the day, but by a group of shepherds who had seen a vision of an angel who brought them “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” The foreign Magi, with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh came later.
To compound the sense of humiliation according to conventional thinking, Matthew tells us that after Joseph and Mary were engaged, Mary turned up pregnant, and not by Joseph. This was profoundly shameful, and Joseph at first, in line with conventional thinking, “was minded to put her away privily.”
An illegitimate child, covered by some story about his mother being overcome by the Holy Spirit, born in a cave and laid in a manger, was to be the universal savior? What kind of God would pull such a stunt?
Apparently, a God who wanted people to understand that conventional thinking about power and what is important in life, about the significance of what the world views as respectable and fitting, is due for some serious rethinking.
All these centuries later few of us have fully absorbed the necessity for such a radical reappraisal of conventional thinking. So the babe in the manger still calls.