As we continue our journey into Advent we look forward to reading the nativity story. When Luke wrote his gospel he was trying to communicate the good news on many levels and establish several things. One of the things he tried to establish was the placement of the life of Jesus of Nazareth firmly in the time line of history. This was done with mention of other historical events: when Quirinius was governor of Syria, according to Luke that was the time Jesus was born.
Well we have a pretty good line on when things were happening in the last years Before the Common Era and the centuries following during the Common Era. Through careful scholarship we know that Jesus birth narrative related in Luke and the census of Quirinius do not jibe. Historically the facts are wrong, the time line is off, even the details are off, but that does not make the story untrue.
Luke knew, as we know, that Jesus was a historical figure. He was born in Judea and lived there until he was crucified, that is the truth that Luke is trying to convey, Jesus was born into the long story of humanity just like kings and rulers. However, Jesus was not a king or ruler in the sense that Quirinius or the Caesars were, Jesus was born a victim of displacement by powerful men who were manipulating the population not for the common good but for the good of the ruling elite. It is widely believed by scholars that the story of the trip to Bethlehem is historically flawed, but the point of the story is that the main characters were the politically and religiously marginalized, the homeless, the refugee, the least of these—to use a term of Jesus. Luke is helping us connect with Jesus by establishing that Jesus was really very much like us, or like our neighbor.
Dislocation. How often do we feel dislocated from the society that surrounds us? As a leader in Community of Christ I have heard over and over from folks who are feeling dislocated, “This isn’t the church I joined.” For those who have felt left behind or somehow abandoned by the monumental changes that the church has made, my sympathy is deep. As we look at the narrative of the birth of Jesus we see that from the first days of his life the world was being turned upside down by the “in-breaking” of God’s kingdom. Angels announce the birth, shepherds—boys who were most likely slaves—are the ones who attend the celebration. Luke throws in some mystics from far away, who would also be “outsiders” to a Jewish community. The point of the story is that God was announcing a new way for the world and like one of our favorite hymns says “Find the old old path, twill be ever new, for the savior walks all the way with you”. Life with Christ is a life of commitment to change and discovery. Dislocation is part of the life of a disciple of Jesus, from his birth Jesus was dislocated. The world we create is not the world that God imagines and our desire to follow Jesus leads us into a new land.
Christianity has entered a new epoch, the world is about to turn, again. In this changing world and in this changing church we have the opportunity to look to the gospel story for guidance and ask “Who am I in the nativity story?” Are you the powerful political or business leader who bends the lives of others to your will? Are you the person who denies shelter to the homeless couple who are in desperate need? Are you the Innkeeper who gives the shelter he has left to the couple, no matter how meager it is? Are you one of the shepherds who gather to celebrate this new life? Or are you an angel (the prophetic voice) that points to God’s activity in your neighborhood and calls others to come and see?
We find ourselves in scripture, that is the power of it, that is how God speaks to us through it. By humbly approaching this story we can find ways to respond to things like the Syrian refugee crisis, the homeless crisis, classism, and inequality. We become the homeless, pregnant teen looking for shelter, we become the husband who is desperately looking for shelter and warmth. We become the shepherd gazing in wonder at God’s generosity and glory. We become the choir singing praise and drawing attention to generosity and glory. Our stories and our Story serve us when they reminds us to look deeply into the world to find where the real problems are. In this time of fear and terror we find our neighborhood expanding beyond what we feel we can comprehend, and yet when it comes right down to it the issue is as small as a knock on the door and a request for shelter.
May your holiday be filled with reflection and discomfort, and may you be filled with joy as you search for your place in this emerging, turned up-side-down world.