It's 2 a.m. on Christmas morning 2005, and I'm still up. In my apartment in Houston all by myself. There won't be any present-opening or family for me until tomorrow night, but I wouldn't exactly call myself lonely on Christmas. I was kind of thinking about Mary and Joseph, and how they must have been feeling on this night 2000 or so years ago. When you think about it - this night probably sucked big-time for them. At church tonight John Jackson told me he talked to his friend who actually lives in Israel, in the Golan Heights, today. They are expecting rain and snow.
A white Christmas. In Israel.
Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "no room for them in the inn".
I read a couple of days ago on Craig's blog, and Myles' blog about how so much of the context of that first Christmas was not joy, and Who-bilation, but instead a rather lot of mourning. It's a great point. Like Myles says:
- Anna is noted as being widow.
- Simeon mentions his impending death in the same breath as his seeing Jesus.
- Mary's heart is promised to be pierced with the metaphorical sword of grief.
- The babies of Bethlehem are all slaughtered at Jesus birth.
- Joseph contemplates divorce before he is even married.
Not to mention the fact that
- Between Caesar and Herod, the Jews in the Galilee region where Jesus grew up were probably under about 80-90% taxation.
- Just to feed their families, many of them had to sell the family land that had been alotted them by God when Joshua brought them into the land, 20-25 generations ago. They had to hire themselves out as day-laborers, and acquire skills that could travel where the work was. We see that Joseph was evidently a carpenter, and when Augustus decided to count, he had to go back to Bethlehem, where his family was from. Why wasn't he living on the family land?
- A strange star was seen in 17 B.C., and witnesses claimed it was the first Caesar, Julius, ascending to the right hand of the father, Zeus. Julius' son, Octavian (aka - Augustus), claimed that if his father was god, he was the son of god, and should be worshiped so. He even went so far as to circulate the phrases "There is no other name by which men can be saved than Caesar Augustus", and "Caesar is Lord" in the population, and if you dared to deny it, he'd kill you.
- Caesar inaugurated a 10-day celebration of his birth called "The Advent of Caesar Augustus".
- Rome also slaughtered thousands of people at a time using an award-winning new invention for torture - crucifixion.
- Herod was probably the richest man who has ever lived. He taxed the Jewish working poor and used their income to build hot tubs on Masada, fresh water swimming pools surrounded by salt water, the worlds largest, most beautiful port city - Caesarea (a world class kiss-ass, that's what he was), statues of Caesar, and roads, stadiums, aqueducts, NOT in Israel. He even single-handedly funded the Olympic games (Coca-who? Master-what?).
- The rich were getting richer, and the poor were getting poorer. The "haves" were having more, and the "have-nots" were having less and less.
Joyful and triumphant this story ain't. There was a deep sense of despair and fatalism among the Jews of the day.
"God, if you're there, and you're so good, and we're your people - is Herod always going to be on the throne? And is Caesar always going to rule? And why do you seem so far off? And why haven't we heard from you in so many years."
But all of a sudden. Out of the blue. After years of silence. The Angel of the Lord appears to a Jr. High girl whose boyfriend is flaky to say the least.
Mary's Magnificat is, according to Thomas Cahill, "The most muscular poem in all of ancient literature". When she finds out a new king is coming on the scene via herself, courtesy of the Spirit of God, she grits her teeth, balls up her fist, and has this to say about Herod, Augustus, taxation, and a God who has seemed far off:
I'm bursting with God-news;Cahill says, "No one knows it yet - but the poor, the hungry, and the humiliated have won, and this unknown 14 year old is their unexpected representative."
I'm dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened--
I'm the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It's exactly what he promised,
beginning with Abraham and right up to now.
Tonight in Baton Rouge they lit bonfires on the levee to light the way for Santa Claus. If you think that waiting on Santa Claus has any remote meaning to what Christmas is about, you haven't been told the story correctly.
Now its almost 3 a.m. and I'm wondering what time the shepherds showed up.