What is your favorite part of the Christmas story?
An interesting merger of faith and politics
The Rev. Thad Holcombe, campus pastor, Ecumenical Christian Ministries, 1204 Oread Ave.:
The story of the star and the Magi has special significance to me. No greeting card, with a star beaming on the site of Jesus' birth, can summarize the meaning of his birth.
The outline for this birth narrative in the gospel of Matthew is the story of Israel's origin, thus revealing how, for those hearing this story, faith and politics were intermingled - no church/state separation.
Without a historical context, this child's birth can be misunderstood. Herod did not make this mistake. Herod had a well-known reputation. He was the conqueror of Jerusalem, and his Roman army had declared victory as peace. When entering Jerusalem, they were "determined to leave none of their opponents alive, masses were butchered in the alleys, crowded together in the houses, and flying into the sanctuary (Josephus)."
Herod's oppression of the peasantry included taxes, tribute and tithes - all were expected and required. A police state was established in Jerusalem.
The Magi from the East arrive in Jerusalem, having followed a star. These priests come, not to give allegiance to Caesar or Herod, but to this ordinary child.
How could this be when everyone knew that Caesar Augustus, represented by Herod, was God incarnate and to be worshipped? A different peace was being announced!
The Christ child announced peace with justice. God's reign would expose the root causes of oppression and challenge the powerful and elite who thrived at the expense of the poor.
The peace of Christ is revealed as personal and political, and it is not announced by "messengers of God" who proclaim peace through military victory. This liberating peace can be discerned today and celebrated in this advent season.
- Send e-mail to Thad Holcombe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Born into a world in which he did not fit
The Rev. Gayla Rapp, United Methodist Campus MInistry, KU:
"And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn." - Luke 2:7
According to the Gospel of Luke, when Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem, there was "no place" for them in the inn.
Every year at the Christmas Eve service, when I hear these words from Luke's gospel, I am reminded that Jesus was born into a world where he did not fit in. Luke's gospel goes on to report that the first people to hear of Jesus' birth were the shepherds.
According to Marcus Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time," some biblical scholars say that in the social world of first-century Palestine, shepherds were considered "outcasts." The birth of the one who does not fit in is first announced to those who do not fit in.
Luke's birth narrative is a prelude to the life Jesus would lead. In his encounters with "the least and last" of his world, Jesus would preach and teach a message of radically inclusive love. Jesus would love the unlovable. He would embrace the outcast. He would love into his kingdom those who did not fit in. And he would ultimately be despised and rejected by a world that was threatened by his message of radically inclusive love.
I've always loved that line from writer Flannery O'Connor: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." Her quote reminds me that disciples of Jesus will be "odd" in the sense that they are out of step with conventional culture.
Like Jesus, they are called to love the unlovable and embrace the outcast. Like Jesus, they are called to set free those who are oppressed and to bring good news to the poor. And like Jesus, they will often find that they do not fit in. Luke's Christmas story reminds those who do not fit in that they are in good company.
- Send e-mail to Gayla Rapp at email@example.com.