By the time he had reached peak notoriety, people are already using names to describe him, giving him titles and giving him praise. They called him the Prince of Peace the savior of the world the son of their God. of course oh, Caesar Augustus did all of that with an army behind him at the end of a sword. When Augustus was born not with the name Augustus the adopted son of the first emperor of Rome, Julius Caesar, entered into a life of abundance and wealth and privilege. Well you had to fight for power, at least for a while, it was always assumed, by Augustine at least, that he would have power, that he would rule the world.
The ancient world anything that mattered happened in Rome. Rome was a place of abundance of Might of size of permanence. Rome also is filled with things that shouldn’t be as big as they are. this is a professional picture of the pantheon. But when I try to take a picture there was no way to get the whole thing in a single shot. even the columns of Ancient Rome are so big you can’t get your arms around them. Anything that mattered happened in Rome.
Makes me wonder if our gospel writer knew that, new where we would be looking anyway or already. that maybe our gospel writer thought we would assume Rome is the place where everything is happening. but we fly over from Rome to the Roman province of Syria which included Judah. and we zoom in on a nothing little town in a region of people who are mostly a thorn in Rome side.
The Gospel writer takes us from the seat of all things and all power, to the nowhere country with the rebel people. We find a couple traveling 80, almost 100 miles, because the seat of power said jump and they didn’t really have a choice.
There are few places in the Bible where we spend a lot of time focusing on women, Christmas is one of them. I wonder what it must have been like for Mary on the road. she was clearly and obviously and very pregnant. she was traveling with the man she was legally promised to although not officially married. I wonder if as they traveled all those miles she saw every glance throwing her way, every questioning look, and knew they knew. I wonder if she was terrified to meet Joseph’s family in Bethlehem. what would they say? what would Joseph tell them? what they welcomed her or what they send her out?
Not to mention her fear around the baby. For a significant part of the world’s history, It was 50/50 women or the child would survive birth. Which means maybe there were girls that Mary grew up with who had lost babies or who have died to do the thing she was about to do.
I was 18 and in the room when my niece was born. and even under the the most controlled circumstances, where everything goes like it’s supposed to, birth is messy, painful, full of uncertainty. Which doesn’t even begin the fear that comes with raising a child into a good adult let alone this child which comes with Angel proclamations And a mission to overthrow the powerful and lift up the poor and lowly. I can only imagine the terror if Mary had to give birth with an animal is a midwife as we tell our story normally, with Mary and Joseph alone in a barn on a Faraway Hill. But I don’t think that’s exactly what happened.
When our translators put inn in the story, they might have misunderstood what would often be translated as guest room and it turns out, we have some ideas about what ancient houses and Jude I would have looked like. First, you wouldn’t want your animals so far away that someone could take them without you noticing oh, so you kept them close. and homes would have been very few rooms. the main floor with a courtyard Would have housed some animals, and some of the work for the household. The upper floor then would be where one would sleep and live and eat. It was where their daily living would happen, where dreams were dreamed, where life was made and brought into the world.
And we see again and again throughout the scriptures the importance of hospitality, welcoming of the stranger as guest, and those known as family. What would you do if tomorrow morning your cousin from halfway across the country showed up with their pregnant partner, looking for a place to stay. but every bed of yours is full, every guest room teeming with other long-lost cousins. you might say I have an air mattress in the basement, are the sofa pulls out, Or maybe if we pile enough blankets up on the floor in the living room or the sofa doesn’t pull out but it’s okay I’ll sleep there anyway. there’s no way that Joseph would show up a name his family oh, and be part of a Heritage, and not be welcomed into the home of his father’s. maybe we can imagine that those in the ancient world or at least as nice as we are. So Joseph extended family invited them in, into their intimate places where they lived and they worked and they slept. Into the most intimate spaces of their home and their lives and their hearts.
So what if instead of having a sheep as a midwife, What if she was surrounded by Joseph’s extended family. What if she was surrounded by women who had done this before and understood her fear. What if they told Mary of birthing and raising their child and the midwifes who saved the Hebrew people in Egypt, the women who gave birth in old age and years of prayers. What if Mary was surrounded by women who reminded her to breathe and told her when to push. What if Jesus was born in the bustle of guests and family and big meal preparations. What if Jesus was born with children peeking around their mother’s legs and peering in through doorways. What if the word became flesh was born into the world surrounded by love. What if there were moments of quiet stillness in that full home as they, as all families do, looked in awe and wonder at all the promise this child brings.
Jesus was welcomed into the most intimate spaces of his extended family’s home, into their hearts, born of love, received with love, revealing love. I wonder if today and the days to come what it would look like to welcome Jesus into the vulnerable and intimate places of your heart and life. To invite the love of God revealed in Jesus into the places of your life that feel full anything but love. To find even a corner of our lives or our hearts to welcome in even the smallest bit of the love of Jesus and then watch how it grows.
May it fill you with love, may love be born within you, may love surround you this Christmas season and always.