– Elizabeth II
Every Christmas we tend to romanticize the birth of Jesus. We display picture-perfect nativity scenes, sing Christmas carols about the silent, holy night in Bethlehem, and hang golden angels from our Christmas trees glittering in lights. In all the beauty and celebration, it’s easy to forget that the human Jesus was not born into the Christmas we portray.
Queen Elizabeth reminds us that Jesus’s birth was not nearly as ideal, according to Matthew and Luke. The human Jesus was birthed where the animals were kept, filthy, smelly, and loud. There was no private room; so, because Mary would be deemed unclean for seven days after the birth, she had no other choice than to lay her baby in an animals’ feeding trough.
The human Jesus was born into a world of conflict, both political and religious. The Romans had conquered and occupied the Holy Land where they appointed a ruthless, merciless king, Herod, to keep Jewish rebellion under control. Some religious factions of Jews were incensed that the land God gave them was defiled by outsiders who wanted them to pay tribute to Rome, while others who had assimilated and had become aristocrats used it as an opportunity to accumulate wealth through exorbitant taxes. The rich were getting richer and the poor were becoming desperate.
The human Jesus and his family became refugees when their lives were at stake and had to make the long treacherous journey to Egypt, threatened by harsh weather, illness, not to mention thieves along the route. Once in Egypt, one can imagine how difficult it must have been for them starting all over again in a time when family was your everything.
Yes, the human Jesus’s birth narrative was anything but picture-perfect.
So, while I invite you to certainly enjoy the pageantry and spectacle of our tradition, I also encourage you to look beyond its gilded surface. If we examine the life of the human Jesus the Gospels describe, perhaps we will discover deeper insight into the love Jesus Christ embodied and advocated. We may then stand in awe of just how challenging that message must have been for his followers considering the world in which they lived.
And perhaps we will be challenged to look around today and see His “neighbors” mirrored in our “neighbors” of today who He calls us to love—mothers lacking the luxury of hospitals, medical care, medical insurance, or resources; members of a political party or nation not our own; believers whose faith goes against everything we cherish; refugees fleeing war and catastrophe; and immigrants with no family support, just hoping to leave desperate poverty behind. This Christmas, that’s the difficult and challenging aspiration I hope the birth of Jesus Christ inspires in us all.
Prayer: May the birth of Jesus inspire me to help create a better world for all of your children.