JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.
A number of years ago, there was a popular song that said “What’s it all about, Alfie?” That question seems appropriate at this time of year. What’s it all about, anyway?
I struggle sometimes with what to post…especially now. It’s a time of year when everyone wants to feel good…to enjoy the season.
But not everyone gets to do that.
And I’m not really sure the season is all about making us feel good.
After all, the child whose birth we celebrate came to shake the world up…to turn the existing expectations on their heads.
We’ve tended to sanitize that…to romanticize it. And so when someone posts a picture that makes us uncomfortable, we tend to want to immediately ignore it…or cry “foul!”
But what if we could all step back a minute…perhaps step into our time machines…and think about what was going on then? What would we see?
We would see a young pregnant woman, making a difficult journey with her fiancé to meet the demands of an occupying government. We would find them in the middle of a chaotic situation, desperately trying to find a place to stay…a quiet and at least somewhat secluded place where she could give birth.
We would see shepherds…unclean, unkempt. While the Bible positively acknowledges the shepherding background of some of the more famous individuals, shepherds didn’t have a good reputation generally. They were often considered to be thieves…and at the least were on the low end of society. And yet they were the ones the angels appeared to.
Later we would see magi–students of the heavens–coming and asking about this child, not knowing that their questions would trigger the deaths of innocent children by a frightened king.
We would see a family fleeing across borders, desperately trying to find a safe place to raise their child.
It’s not necessarily a feel-good story.
And so I think that some of the contemporary nativity scenes that we see–the ones that make us really uncomfortable…and maybe even angry…are appropriate for this time of year. They are what the story is all about…questions of dealing with “the other”…desperate families seeking safety for their children…genocide…
It’s not just something that happened approximately 2000 years ago. It happens today.
And the story…ultimately a story of hope for a new world…is all about what it means to live in this world…in this time…and a challenge to us. Who are we in the story? And how will we let it impact us?
What’s it all about anyway?