A Retelling of the Birth of Jesus

This is a story of mystery and intrigue. All stories, even the story of your own life, begin with mystery and intrigue. For no one knows at the beginning of the story how a story will end, no one, not even those living it.

This story begins in a distant land, across the oceans, across a mighty desert, during the 59th year of the Roman Empire founded by Caesar Augustus. He established rule over all the lands that surrounded a mighty sea. He declared a time of peace across this empire as he had subdued all the peoples and tribes who lived within his empire. But there was one province where there was still great unrest, Judea. The people who lived there were a proud people with a belief in an unseen and mysterious God. These people longed to be free of Rome. They wanted self-rule and they longed for a leader who would fulfill this promise. But any such talk of a leader brought the wrath of Rome, which took many forms in those days. An innocent traveler could be doing Rome’s and Caesar’s bidding. So people were afraid of strangers.

It was during this time of uncertainty that Caesar Augustus called for an accounting, a census of all the people in this region. This census included a tax to further burden the people of Judea and to not register and pay the tax would mean fierce punishment. People were angered and resentful of this decree.

Now Joseph and his betrothed, Mary lived in Nazareth but the census required them to leave their home and travel to the town of Joseph’s ancestors, to Bethlehem. Traveling through the Desert Mountains was treacherous in those days and Mary was expecting a child. When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, it was time for her give birth.

They looked for a place to stay. But at every inn they received the same reply—no room. Finally, an innkeeper seeing Mary was in labor offered them to stay in the stable behind the inn where there was hay for bedding and shelter. In the wee hours of the night Mary gave birth to her child, whom she called Jesus.

Now none of this story thus far sounds mysterious. But what happens next is indeed mysterious.

In the hills not far away from Bethlehem there were some shepherds keeping watch over their flock of sheep. And a bright light appeared before them and in this bright light was what appeared to be an Angel. Now most people have never seen an angel so the shepherds were filled with fear and trepidation. That means they were quaking in their boots. But The Angel shouted, Do not be afraid. For I bring you news of great Joy for the people for today born this day in the city of David (the Angel was referring to Bethlehem. Angels often speak poetically.) a savior, who will be the messiah. You will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. And suddenly the whole sky was filled with Angels singing Glory to God and peace and goodwill toward all people. Then the angels vanished, just like that. (snap fingers) The shepherds still very much in shock decided they should go to where the babe was born. When they saw the child just as the angel had said, they bowed deeply before the child.

But that is not all that happened when this child was born. There was yet another mysterious thing to happen. Wise ones known as the Magi were scanning the heavens for a sign to offer them hope in these treacherous days. And a new star appeared in the heavens. They saw this star as an omen of a great person being born who would lead them to new freedom and decided to travel from the east to offer their respects to this new leader. As they drew near this new star in the heavens seemed to rest directly over the place where this new child was born. They brought with them gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts they presented to the child. They also bowed down before this child and declared him a king of Kings. How very odd for strangers to give such gifts and to say such things to a child born in poverty, born in a stable.

Word of this child’s birth spread through the region and had reached the ears of the magistrate of the province. He wanted to find this child so he too could pay his respect but Joseph had a mysterious dream which warned him that the magistrates’ intentions were to harm the child. And Joseph, Mary, and the child fled to a neighboring province until it was safe to return. All of these events were very mysterious. Mary, the mother of this child, held these mysterious events in her heart. She wondered what is in store for this child with such a mysterious beginning to summon angels and wise ones. And we wonder today at each new birth what wondrous things will unfold through their lifetime.

Written by Rev. Fred L Hammond (c) 2014

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Published in: on December 25, 2014 at 10:43 am  Comments Off on A Retelling of the Birth of Jesus  
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Jesus: Anchor Baby, Illegal Immigrant

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem

We seem to white wash our own stories-if we read the text closely, we will read that Jesus, too, was an illegal immigrant and an anchor baby.  This cartoon highlights this truth in profound ways.

We would prefer to coo and ah at the pristine baby Jesus found in Christmas pageants.  Here he is chubby with rosy cheeks.  Here he is cute with smiles and giggles.  Our manger is with fresh clean hay.  The animals are robust and clean.   Mary the new mother is pristine in blue and looks like she has just arrived from the beauty parlor and not like she has spent unknown amount of hours in labor, hair matted with sweat.  We do not witness the screams and profanity that uttered from her lips as she labored.  And Joseph, the proud father, not the humiliated man who has just watched his bride to be give birth to some other man’s child.   Yes, Mary is an unwed teenage mother, another shameful truth we dismiss all too gladly from this story.

But here are the other truths of the story that in today’s political climate we would rather not see.  Joseph and Mary are residents in a foreign land.  In order to be in compliance with a census, they must travel back to the land of their ancestors.  It is not their home land.  If it were, then the story would have told of relatives or friends that had no room for them and not the inns.  A more profound story would have been for relatives and friends to reject the coming of the Christ child.   How often is it our own families that reject who we are or who we have become?

But in order for Jesus to be the promised savior he must be born in another country to fulfill the prophecy. “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” [Matthew 2:6] Jesus is an anchor baby, born in Bethlehem in order to claim the rights and privileges of being the son of David.

Shortly after his birth, we read that King Herod orders the killing of the innocent, all children under the age of two. So Jesus and his parents become fugitives under the law and flee once again this time to Egypt. Jesus is now an illegal immigrant with a criminal record. The crime is sedition, being born a king when there was already a king in the land. The intent of overthrowing a kingdom is a felony crime.

When Herod is dead. Jesus’ parents return to their own country, not to Bethlehem where Jesus is a legal resident but to Nazareth. Where Jesus grows up as an illegal alien where he takes the job of carpenter away from other Nazarenes. Jesus does this and yet we accuse undocumented workers of doing something immoral? We admire Jesus, the carpenter, but we disdain the undocumented construction worker?

If this story were to happen in Arizona, Sheriff Arpaio would seek to arrest Joseph and Mary, throw them into Tent City, where Mary would have had her baby with little medical attention. Jesus would still be an anchor baby because the 14th amendment has not yet been repealed. Joseph and Mary would have been sent to a detainment facility to await ICE decision to deport them. Jesus as an American citizen would be sent to an orphanage. Or if the story unfolded a bit closer to the Biblical text, Joseph would have had a dream to flee back into the desert and cross back into Mexico with Mary and newborn Jesus. The trek across the Arizona desert is as treacherous and dangerous as the trek from Bethlehem to Egypt. They would have faced starvation, dehydration, and possible death only to find a wall blocking their way.

If Jesus truly brings good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, sight to the blind and to the oppressed freedom, then Jesus identifies with the struggles for justice that undocumented immigrants cry out to receive. The cry for justice began in their own country where American corporations colluded with the rich to destroy homeland economies forcing thousands upon thousands of the working poor out of jobs. It began in our own country when the School of Americas trained militias to return to their home countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Columbia, and others to overthrow governments and set up even worse governments where citizens are killed for speaking truth to power. These injustices demand reparation by our United States Government. Ideally, we would close down the School of Americas. We would limit the influence that corporations have in other countries, and we would seek to assist the citizens to rebuild their home countries. But the least we can do is grant these refugees passage to our country and allow them to make a new way for themselves.

The least we can do is welcome them into our hearts as if they are indeed the Christ Child come to bring glad tidings and healing to the world. Blessings,