CHRISTMAS – 2015
“… the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Lk. 2:5
Luke, one of the paramount storytellers of all time, begins his “greatest story ever told” with these ominous words: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”
Luke obviously wanted to begin his tale by creating a contrast, a distinction. He wanted to show that the difference between the “power” of the great emperor Augustus who ruled “all the world” was the absolute opposite of the “power” of a child born with only a manger for a bed, behind an out-of-the-way inn, in a backwater nothing of a town called Bethlehem.
Luke wanted to present this child of a common laborer as a rival to the great Augustus.
Look at the difference Luke creates:
Mary’s child is born in the midst of animals; Augustus in the midst of grandeur.
Mary’s child is placed in a manger; Augustus dwells in a palace.
And then comes the ultimate contrast: immediately after this peasant child is born, a “multitude of the heavenly host” sing the birth announcement throughout the skies: Savior, Messiah, Lord of the Universe – all names attributed to the emperor Augustus.
God has intervened in human history.
Then Luke proceeds to outline the marked difference in which the two – the child born of Mary and the emperor Augustus – will approach the issue of power. What will power look like for these two?
For Augustus, it will be a case of power over people.
The whole point to the census that brought Mary and Joseph to this provincial town was so that “all the world” could be registered. It was time to count the people, to work out the tax rates, to remind the citizens and residents of the known world that the empire has the power to exact from the citizens whatever and whenever the empire desires.
The baby born to Mary and Joseph, on the other hand, is God with the people, not over them … a God who lifts up the oppressed and fills those hungry in body, mind, and soul with all the blessings of abundant love.
In this child, God turns the tables on the powers of the world. The first will be last.
So now, here we are today – and what Christmas still dares each of us to do is to become like this child: vulnerable, powerless, open to God’s infinite grace. This grace unseals our eyes so that we can see: see the need for shelter for all people, see the need for loving care of the most destitute, see the need for being present with those oppressed by loneliness and other heartaches.
Ultimately, though, what Christmas represents is what the world we live in today cries out for so desperately: peace, reconciliation, the end to violence and to interminable conflict.
Charles Dickens, the author of perhaps the “second greatest Christmas story ever told,” The Christmas Carol, certainly “got” the message of Luke’s gospel. And, next to Luke’s tale, most affected the way we celebrate this great feast.
His story also deals with the contrast between two versions of how to use power: Scrooge and Tiny Tim. Power over vs. Power with.
Due to the profoundly humiliating experiences of his own childhood, Dickens was unusually sensitive to the plight of the poor. The appalling working conditions forced upon children in England at the time of his writing only deepened his cry for social justice.
After Dickens’ death, The Christmas Carol was regarded as a “new gospel” and was considered unique in that “it actually made people behave better,” in the words of one critic.
Both the old gospel of Luke, and the more recent one of Charles Dickens, preach the same message best summarized by St. Irenaeus spoken way back in the second century: “Because of his boundless love, Jesus became what we are that he might make us to be what he is.”
It’ a miracle that takes place within us. As one character in Dickens’ story puts it: “I get it now! If you GIVE, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you.”
What miracle, what wonder, what dream will you allow this Christmas to create in your life? What kind of power will you embrace, the power of “over,” or the power of “with”? What kind of peace, what kind of reconciliation will you initiate?
Perhaps the answers to these questions will be determined by what kind of manger is being created in our hearts. Hopefully, it will be one that will bring each of us to our knees, and encourage us to join in with the angels singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.”
And, in the words of Tiny Tim: “May God bless us, everyone!”
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.
NOTE: As a kind of Christmas “gift,” I want to wish you all a very holy and merry Christmas. I also want to again alert you to the presence of many articles that you might be interested in reading, especially in the “Spirituality” section of my website: drtedsweb.com
These articles include several from Crux, a publication of the Boston Globe on the latest concerns within the world of Catholicism, as well as many articles from The National Catholic Reporter also dedicated to recent trends within the church, and other sources.
Also included: a listing of some wonderful books to read in the area of spirituality.
If interested, simply click on the section entitled “Spirituality” on my website.