A Word Before
Since I became an adult with my own family at the young age of 23, I began to acutely understand my fathers’ “Scrooge-ness” at this time of year. In fact, I wrote a blog back in 2018 depicting the cynical side of both his and my later experience, and my summation of it all now looking in the rear view. And if you read it, you got my occasional PG-13 rendition of my life on the narrow path. So for my overly sensitive Christian friends, or anyone else who cares to read; be forewarned, but by all means, have at it:😊 It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christ(x)mas.
Anyway, I’ve decided that at least for now (four years later) to talk briefly about the most obvious aspects of the Christmas story we know; but particularly from the lens of its both unsuspected entrance, as well as it’s strange peculiarity in a world more similar than our own we had yet imagined.
The Sound of Silence
As Jesus entered the scene as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes somewhere around 4 B.C., after what is not so affectionately called “the 400 years of silence”, he came almost unnoticed and without any fanfare to speak of.
It was a time when there had been no prophet in Israel. There had been no burning bushes for as long as anyone could remember. There was no “calling down fire” on any lingering prophets of Baal.
There were also no more Davidic kingdoms. Yet only the still unfulfilled promise of one who would come in his lineage, albeit with varying interpretations of its full revelation. And outside of the pretty regular off-kilter renegade messiah-types, there was no Samuel or Moses. And surely there were no Isaiah’s or Jeremiah’s that were speaking both apocalyptically and pastorally. There were no voices beckoning God’s people to come back to Him for the marriage He had once promised long, long ago.
And though there were men and women of God expectantly waiting on a mysterious Kingly Messiah to come, there was no visible sign in the Judean air of a Savior coming around the bend. Especially not one expected to be proclaimed by poor Shepherds while everyone was sleeping, or later to be found inconspicuously by lowly parents unable to even find a proper birthing place for him when it was sorely needed.
In fact, outside of some astronomy King’s from the East, and then later to be forewarned to another paranoid King of Judea (Herod the Great), you could have heard a pin drop from both the religious and philosophical elites of the day as to anything imminently lurking in the messianic waters.
To add to this air of questioning as to whether God had perhaps abandoned his people for good and left the building with Elvis, there was also a hotbed of political unrest that the Romans, and equally the top Jewish religious brass, were constantly concerned about. They in fact were continuously keeping their eyes open to potential terrorist-zealots, conspiracy theorists, heretics, and doomsday prophets; warning of both the judgement to come, along with a few all too willing to help usher it in.
It was also a time when the Pharisees, Sadducee’s and Essenes were the main voices exegeting any orthodox understanding having to do with this Israeli God, at least in their mind’s eye. And outside of a rare morsel of truth coming out of their mouths, religion was at least still a thriving business that kept most afraid of adding to their Roman occupation the equal threat of being kicked out of their local synagogue. Those synonymous with being all alone amidst a mostly undesired Hellenistic pull towards a syncretic mixture of their treasured religious and philosophical ideas. New ideas that were indeed threatening the fabric of a monotheism that once brought them to the height of worldly attention, and now becoming a much more distant memory.
This sentiment was held in close juxtaposition of a mostly Roman (inherited from the Greeks) ethos shunning the possibility of finding any truth at all, outside of what Roman power could exact from the opposing populace through sheer force, control of the accepted Roman talking points, or their more genteel Pax Romana.
And yet, it was also a time in which the apostle Paul would say was both the “fullness of times” and a time that God, after years of man groping for Him, would finally reveal Himself through a man who was to be his exact representation; a man named Jesus. One of who’s now post-resurrection witness to a band of several hundred of his followers and skeptics, would call every man, woman, and child to repent; and likewise receive the perpetual forgiveness of their sins.
Stoking the Progressive Reaction
And so it was in this milieu that the Christian postscript to the original Jewish story began to be told, as poor shepherds were keeping their flocks by night, that an angel appeared with a message that brought “great joy” to all people. A joy now extended to those who previously had no voice with zero bargaining chips, in a world that viewed human life as cheap and therefore expendable to the movers and shakers who deemed it to be so.
So at least for the least of these, like other times perhaps, it was momentarily reminiscent of Dickens once famous line opined, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Yet again, it was only the broken it seemed that could see at least a microcosm of the former amidst the chaos that forever ensued around them. After all, years and years of searching for a now seemingly hidden God and equally without a homeland can do strange things to men. A crisis of faith amongst the faithful being the most understood and yet tragic all the same.
And to make things slightly more complicated as to the possibility of any grain of truth falling on receptive progressive minds, the Christian story would insist that the Christ child was born of a virgin. An otherwise laughable prospect.
Yet we are told that a young teenage girl who was an unlikely yet devout Jewish nobody, betrothed to a fervently pious man, would collectively need an angelic visit of their own to even convince them they were not completely off their rocker. And at the outset, as the song from many years back reminds us now, one would have to admit that it was indeed such a strange way to save the world.
A Nothingburger on the Nightly News
Nonetheless, after the Christ child’s birth in a “no horse” town of Bethlehem, we are then told it led to what was known as the “slaughter of the innocents”, which was then quickly cancelled on the evening news; almost as if it never even happened.
And if the historical record serves us well, it was at the age of 2 before we got another glimpse of this hopeful child that we imagined would have come with a bit more pomp and circumstance. For as Matthew’s gospel only records it, three Kings of Orient would then lavish the prophesied King revealed to them in the Jewish scriptures and their faithful star gazing, with gold, frankincense, myrrh, and awe-struck worship.
And yet, the nightly talk show circuit, then as now, was busy covering the more memorable tweets of the day. And so, another day of “living the dream” would sift its sand through the hourglass of their unsettled lives.
And of course, if you to add to this perceived “anti-science” rhetoric of a King being born of a virgin (who was again “poor” for goodness sakes), only known at this point by a very small inner circle, his humanness was the much more regular course of things obvious to the casual observer. For he was a provincial nobody outside of these anomalies of untelevised miraculous birth and Kingly worship. He was after that, simply destined it seemed to be a humble carpenter, just like his dad. Nothing more and nothing less.
This unassuming supposed King grew up with a dad and a mom just like you and me. He went to synagogue like other good Jewish boys. Loved his mom. Followed the rules. Woke up. Ate. Went to work. Came home and ate again. Went to bed. And then rinsed and repeated ad nauseum like the rest of us.
And he would not garner our attention again until somewhere around the age of 30, where we are told that after three short years from that, He and 12 of his rag-tag followers would literally turn that same unassuming world upside down because of something much more God-like: a brutal and visible roman death accompanied by an equally observable bodily resurrection.
So much so in fact, that time itself is now determined by His “before” and “after” pictures.
And now 2000 years later, wise men still seek Him. Though it does seem at least that most are now hiding in plain sight. merely trying to “keep the peace” with a very low profile. Content somehow to sell the good news as add-on psychobabble from comfortable suburban sanctuaries, where before the majority seemed to be running headlong towards a martyr’s crown.
Strange days indeed.
The Days of Noah
But something about that baby Jesus in the manger still gets us, doesn’t it? I mean even from those who would subtly mock him, he still gets runway, even from the likes of Ricky Bobby for goodness sakes. In fact, even today, it seems we just can’t get him out of our heads or holidays, though we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping him a stone’s throw from our allegiant hearts.
But anyway, it still seems a strange way to save the world to our more enlightened minds don’t you think? All this baby in a manger, Jesus dying on a bloody cross, western propaganda has surely passed its shelf life by now has it not.
Yet it’s a time when we’ve still adopted it as something we should at least detachedly pay some nostalgic homage to. If nothing more than to extract some “mindfulness” from the exercise. And we do still love the gifts, the food, and the endless merry making. And a couple of days off from the rat race isn’t a bad deal either.
But as I think about it at this very moment, I’m reminded again of a time when there wasn’t much hope in the world, but people were going about their daily grind. They were eating, drinking, getting married and having to listen to some lone prophet forecasting rain on a sunny day.
And while even now a growing mixture of both charlatans and the rare prophet-types warn of things to come that feel very palpable now to many in Noah’s camp, the rest of us who long ago killed the very concept of God-talk in the public square, the boardroom and the bedroom boastfully anesthetize any thought of it. Our is a new legislated “atheistic manifesto”, coupled with endless spirits to give us absolution instead.
But nonetheless, this is Christmas.
And while many still think it a strange way to save the world, still others; especially now, are not so sure.
For perhaps the foolish things of the world really are what will very soon confound the collective pied pipers among the intelligentsia. Maybe the answer truly does lie among the strangers and aliens who stick out like a sore thumb when they don’t follow the tune.
Or perhaps God had to throw a mysterious curve to surprise those only expecting test-tube verifiable fastballs.
Or maybe, just maybe; God has always employed his special team’s division to a world that long presumed a game on their terms. So, he faked the punt, and his predicted underdogs end up winning the game in double-overtime!
And so, even now during our own “sound of silence” on this now much narrower path than when we first began, if we can somehow purposefully pause the silent, yet incessant noise around us this Christmas to truly listen, we can almost hear God saying something we have longed for as long as we can remember.
Can you hear it?
“Attention everyone. Dry your tears now my beloved. Open the books and get them ready! And let us now prepare the wedding feast. It is now time to put the sickle in and reap.
Michael, you know what to do”!