As the celebration of the birth of Christ approaches, I’ve had a few emails come to me with reflections on the holiday. I read this today:
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. 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. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 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. (Luke 2:1-7 TNIV)
I’ve heard this story year after year and yet something new strikes me almost every time. Today reading that on the bus I recalled some things I’ve been told by the church in the past and noted an incongruity with the message of this story.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that Christians should be very careful about how their lifestyles might be perceived from the outside as non-Christians may presume hypocritical living. And of course there’s a degree of truth to this, but also a vast amount of room for legalism, self-righteousness and a lack of transparency to occur with this practice. Yet in this story, the very birth of himself, God initiates a total scandal for this young woman (teenager more like), Mary, and her fiance Joseph. We all know that but think about it a minute. Think about how ludicrous it is.
One measure I’ve been taught of how to know if something is God or not is how ‘honouring’ it would be to him- in other words, how ‘right’ and ‘moral’ does it seem to the observer or how compatible is it with scripture. Little Mary, heavily pregnant and not married was certainly not right nor moral in those days and seems to conflict with some laws somewhere in the OT. It’d be foolish to imagine that she wasn’t ostracized and rejected- marginalised by her culture for being a whore of sorts. ‘No, really guys, this is God’s baby!’ would only lend her to be further condemned by her society as a lunatic or fanatic. Joseph’s contribution to the conversation of not being the father would probably lend more credibility to him as a man but contribute to her negative image even more so.
Reflecting on all this makes me rethink what I’ve been told about discerning God’s activity around me and in my own life. It confirms to me that he’s poised to bring his kingdom through actions that would make the average church goer squirm in their pew. Of course I’ve known this, it’s just good to be reminded and to have a few more of those wobbly walls in my cozy Christian construct be dismantled.
And it’s also comforting to know that as unkind as it may seem on the one hand to give someone such a burden of rejection to carry through life as he did Mary and even Jesus the bastard himself, I’m not alone in living this way and great things come from living in the margins.