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Our anti-Imperial Christmas story


The birth stories concerning Jesus of Nazareth hardly make reference to the massive Roman Empire which controlled the whole area from North Africa to Europe, and included Palestine where Jesus was born. According to the Gospel from Luke 2 1-5, the Roman Emperor Augustus ordered a census which sent Joseph and Mary on a journey from Galilee to Judea (from Nazareth to Bethlehem), then he disappears from the scene. His colonial deputy in Judea, Great Herod, called in the ‘Wise Men’ — the visiting scholars — sent them to find the baby king, and later, after they evaded him, gave the order to slaughter all children around Bethlehem area, up to 2 years old, in order to get rid of Jesus, told in Matthew 2.16. The Empire then retires.{{more}}

The real centre of gravity for the birth stories of Jesus in the gospels of Matthew and Luke, is the rural families of Joseph and Mary in Galilee, and Zechariah and Elizabeth in Judea. In the Roman Empire they have little status, mainly to pay taxes, but they are the feature agents in the birth stories. The Christmas story therefore tells us implicitly that this baby, born in a feed box, to blossom into a salvation revolutionary, will have no affection or affinity for imperial values or relations. His kingdom/ reign/empire of God is anti imperial. He avoids at his birth, the festivities of the palace and the spotlight of the powerful.

Good news of, for and by the poor

“Who, Me!?” This is unbelievable! That is what Zechariah the priest felt (Luke 1.12-18) his wife too (Luke 1.25-43). The same emotional upheaval was triggered with Mary (Luke 1. 29) and Joseph (Matt 1. 24) both Mary the young woman (Luke 1. 46-55) and Zechariah the priest (Luke 1. 67-79) are given salvation songs to trumpet, glorifying the amaying God who chose the children of lesser class, to reverse imperial and effects (Luke 1. 52-53) and launch a rescue mission (Luke 1. 74) among the people. It must not escape our attention that in these accounts, while the Emperor Augustus, and Great Herod pass orders to officials, God consults with the girl Mary and advises her husband, God responds to Zechariah’s plea(Luke 1. 13) and Elizabeth’s sense of discrimination. There is no commanding emperor in God’s approach in this story of Jesus birth. It is anti-imperial all over, a story of grace and gracefulness towards those whom we consider low class. The actual event, the birth of Jesus, and the way God does it is greet; good news to the poor.

Discerning a Christmas Methodology

Women should pay attention to the solidarity and support that Mary the pregnant young woman, and Elizabeth the pregnant mature woman share with each other. Each one was experiencing isolation, aloneness and critical scrutiny but they did not criticise each other. Elizabeth welcomed Mary with joy and blessing, and Mary had some time of sisterly comfort and counsel. The fetuses may also have begun to bond! Relations were constructive between the women, agents of salvation, and partners in God’s plan. And the shepherds, where do they come in? Were they just an afterthought, or were they perhaps the climax of the story? These works lived/abided in the hill/fields. They were a deprived group. Earning, family life, social respect obedience to Torah put them near the bottom of society. What place could they have in a story of God’s empire and anointed child? Yet the message to them was crystal clear and specific “Breaking News of your Deliverance” which will also include all people. More startling, still in Luke 2.13, a whole gospel choir showed up to reinforce the message to their mesmerised watchmen, as if they were the real “reason for the season”. I find it striking that after they got the message, they went to share in the birth “sign” , they passed the deliverance word among their class world, and then returned- inspired and changed to the hills!

To celebrate this working class birth story of Jesus in a 2010th Christmas anniversary is a challenge, if we take the anti-imperial thrust of God seriously. We need a spiritual- material methodology in the retreat from/exclusion of empire in the affair of Christmas. It calls for an inclusive awakening (who, me?) Of our entrapped majorities to God’s graciousness, a new beginning of God’s good news to the poor – with joy.