One of the expressions commonly used at Christmas which never sounds quite right to me is, “can’t we just put it aside for Christmas.” It may not occur in those exact words but the sentiments are the same. There is an expression or desire to put away something (a feeling, emotion, or agenda) which would normally warrant further discussion; but due to the divisive or contentious nature of the subject, we don’t speak of such topics because it’s the holiday season. The holidays, as we all know, are about warmth, love, and togetherness. So, in a spirit of good will, we ignore (or suppress) what’s been festering in our lives for months. In theory this sounds like a great idea. Yet, I’m not sure how emotionally healthy it is nor am I certain that it’s a very Biblical way to approach Christmas.
What if Joseph had taken a similar attitude with his “situation” involving Mary? Nowhere in Matthew or Luke does one find Joseph putting off or sending away Mary until a more convenient time. Joseph doesn’t use the, “it’s the holiday” excuse, it’s tax time, or any number of reasons to delay the realities caused by his pregnant fiancé. It might have been easier and more comfortable to ignore the inevitable. Joseph’s family and Mary’s parents might have had a less stressful holiday season, not having to deal with their pregnant daughter and her unbelievable stories about angels. They didn’t put these feelings, emotions, or problems aside because of any desire to preserve the sanctity of a holiday season. Bethlehem wouldn’t wait until after Mary delivered birth. Emmanuel, God with us, is about reality of Bethlehem in the present. God is moving, acting, and inspiring us now, in the present.
God cares next to nothing about our pro-forma celebrations, routines, and schedules. The events described by Luke (in chapters 1 and 2) are about the immediacy God’s presence. The story of the first Christmas is about families, communities, and the cosmos being confronted then and there with God’s active engagement with humanity. The announcement of the Messiah’s birth is not a message that can be delayed, ignored, or forgotten. Once it’s out there, it’s not something you can push aside. The very nature of the announcement (the content, not the angelic means of delivery) demands our full attention. The history of human civilization and how we define the very nature of religious, political, and social power has been altered by the birth of one child to a peasant couple. If no one else in the Christmas story understands this, Herod grasps this completely. He knows exactly what this news means for himself and those like him. Herod gets the fact that Jesus’ birth represents a change larger than anything he could imagine. In short, Bethlehem can’t be ignored. There is no way to put it aside. History has changed forever.
Herod is the only person in the story who becomes proactive (albeit negatively) and responds to this new reality represented by Jesus’ birth. The shepherds are passive participants at best. They, like everyone else, come to observe. Herod takes the world altering and life changing message of Jesus’ birth seriously. Here’s my question: are we able to take the news from Bethlehem as seriously as Herod did? What if we didn’t show up like the shepherds and wise men to solely listen and watch? What if we took the prophecy and proclamation so seriously that we altered the way we live today? What if we realized that instead of passive gazing on an infant, our world was being turned upside down and we needed to be involved in that turning, not hanging out a stable?
Are we able to take Christmas as seriously as King Herod? Are you willing to take that risk? It’s easier to be a shepherd and just stare and talk about what you’ve heard. It’s much harder to do something about Jesus now. Instead of waiting until things have settled down and people have much more time on their hands, we can take Jesus’ birth for the world altering event it represents and respond to it now.