For the Weeks of The Holy Family and Epiphany of the Lord, Year A
The Lord of History
Bethlehem is a difficult place. The city of Jesus’ birth has long been and still is powerless and today, caught in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He whose birth we are celebrating at Christmas was also powerless. It was the Emperor Augustus who had the power. He was the ruler of the greatest empire in the world at the time. And he needed a great deal of money for its powerful military, so he had tax rolls drawn up throughout the whole empire, even in Israel, which was under Roman rule.
Many of the Jewish people refused to pay taxes to the emperor and formed organizations which either passively or actively resisted the authorities of occupation. These “zealots” repeatedly tried to minimize the occupying power and for this, the Romans took cruel revenge and many ended up on the cross.
Joseph was not one of them. He obeyed the emperor’s command and did what had to be done. Even though his wife was in the later stages of pregnancy, he undertook with Mary the long and difficult journey to Bethlehem in order to be enrolled in the census. He submitted to the emperor’s rule. Yet the emperor was subject to God’s rule. The emperor’s life, like anyone’s was in God’s hand. Thus, it is God Himself who arranged that Joseph would travel to Bethlehem and that Mary would give birth to Jesus in that city from which the prophets foretold the Savior would come. And then Joseph could not find even a place to stay. Only a manger and swaddling clothes would be the clothing and shelter for the child. Our Lord came into the world in extreme poverty and powerlessness.
Why did God choose this way? First, to speak to our hearts. A little child always moves hearts. God does not want to dominate us like other kings of the world. He wants the love of our hearts. His love for us is deeply personal. This is why he stretches out to us the arms of a child. Second, he does not want us to encounter one another in a threatening way, striking attitudes of power, but serving one another. God makes himself small in Christ, so we should not make ourselves out to be too great.
In a world where there is much of the experience of Bethlehem of sorrow, violence, and injustice, is there hope? Is there a great joy? Can angels proclaim peace on earth? We must bend down to the child in the crib this Christmas and beyond. We must do so to encounter him personally, his humility, his peace, his plea to embrace our own humanity in each other and value each person we encounter as precious in his eyes. Then we will find peace and joy.
Take the time to read this gospel, even aloud, and reflect on it again, if you can, this Christmas. I wish you all a very beautiful and memorable Christmas as we celebrate His birth among us!