I am not a conspiracy theorist when it comes to Christmas or Christianity – or pretty much anything for that matter. But you have to wonder this time of year if there is not some cosmic scheme to drown out the story of Jesus’ birth with seasonal accoutrements.
You really have to think about what of the first story remains if you strip out the extras. In the gospel story, there was no wrapping paper, no Christmas tree. Where was Santa or elves or bells or… what else? In today’s celebration, you hardly ever hear of King Herod’s murderous rampage against toddlers. And few linger long on the reason Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem to begin with: to register with the census. In other words, to be counted among the subjects of the Roman Empire and to pay taxes.
Luke 2 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while[a] Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
I am so used to this story, I hear the mention of the heavy hand of an oppressive government with an almost sentimental sigh, as we huddle in cushy pews and get ready to sing Silent Night. “All is calm, all is bright…” I’m not so sure it was so calm and so bright. Joseph and Mary weren’t even officially married yet, but simply “pledged” to be married. Not an ideal scenario. On top of which, it was so crowded in town with everyone coming from all over to register with the census, they had to take shelter in a barn.
6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
I suspect there were no fairy lights strung around the barn door, either. It is tough to imagine more humble circumstances for the birth of the King of Glory.
And yet… Lately I keep coming back in my mind to the thought of blessings and thankfulness, and how we tend to lump those things into the feel good category. We are blessed when things are “going well” according to what might make us a bit more comfortable. We are thankful for the cushy things – good health, warm house, soft blankets, delicious food.
God has a plan – has had one for a very long time – that is so much bigger than the best deal on the latest gadget gift. It might not include these comfy things at all. Might not include trees and bells and elves and strings of lights. Might not include wrapped presents and stockings by the fire and a honking huge ham with pineapple slices and cloves stuck in the side and sugar cookies by the dozen. (But I love those things so much!)
Just saying. Might not.
Might. God’s gifts don’t always come in the trappings of our own season. But they can, I suppose. After all, He delivered Jesus, the Bread of Life, to the House of Bread (Bethlehem) through the trappings of Caesar’s census. So sure, He can and will continue to give the best gifts of all through whatever circumstances bind us.
Still. I wonder if I can make room in my thinking for a celebration of Christ’s birth that has nothing to do with decorations, for blessings that are not about my personal comfort, and gratitude for the One who came to turn my precious snow globe world upside down?
Image by Jarren Simmons via unsplash.com.