As Christmas is upon us again, the lyrics of Away in a Manger appear relevant today.
Away in a manger/ no crib for his bed/ The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;/The stars in the heavens looked down where he lay/ The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay.
The manger, the star, the kings bearing gifts and the shepherds all speak to the humanity of the Nativity story. But to focus on this scene is to miss the import of the Christmas story: Jesus, Mary’s Boy Child, came to earth to be a troublemaker, but the world continues to be in trouble because it refuses to acknowledge the alternative presented by the coming of Jesus.
Many of us believe that Mary was silent in the Nativity story, but she uttered the most revolutionary words in the Gospel. She set out the conflict the Boy Child was destined to bring.
Luke 2: 50 – 55 says: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation./ He has shown strength with his arm;/ He has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts./ He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;/ He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty./ He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
This bright red line puts Jesus at war with the Establishment. We miss the declaration by remaining focused on the manger. He was against the proud, the powerful and the rich. He was against the Roman Empire since He was the fulfilment of an ancient promise.
We should not miss the violent response of Herod to the announcement of His coming. Herod found the news of His birth so politically troubling that he ordered the killing of all male children under two years of age.
At the end of his time on earth, the Jews taunted the then Herod by reminding him that Caesar Augustus would be unhappy with the granting of a pardon. Mary’s Boy Child was subversive. He challenged the political kingdom of the day.
The Church’s silence and her fawning at the feet of some politicians are not consistent with His message. Mary’s Boy Child came in the tradition of the Old Testament prophets—a critic of the powerful. How do we reconcile our desire for ‘Likes’ and applause with following this Boy Child?
He openly spoke of His Kingdom, thereby throwing down the gauntlet to Caesar Augustus. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Augustus had achieved peace in the then world—a unique achievement in two hundred years: a serenity created by complete obedience to him.
By decreeing that there be a census, Augustus caused Mary and Joseph to take their Boy Child on a hazardous journey to Bethlehem. But Augustus was not in charge of events.
The little town of Bethlehem was prophesied to be His birthplace. Augustus was merely facilitating the fulfilment of the prophecy. This lack of appreciation for our place in history leads us to misunderstand the limited power of politicians and the Establishment.
We squirm because we do not connect to the past nor see the future. We forget the words of the Angel who announced his birth: “Of his kingdom, there will be no end.” The story of Christmas forces us to choose which kingdom we will honour.
Jesus fulfilled Mary’s words through His work among the poor. He made marginalised people the centre of his time on earth: He healed them, sat with them and chose them in a direct rebuke to the Establishment.
Do we recall His whipping the merchants out of the Temple? That was a frontal challenge to the commercial interests of the day.
Where did we get the impression that we need to comfort and cuddle those whose god is their money? Are we as brave as Archbishop Helder Camara of Brazil, who once said: “When I fed the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked, ‘Why are they poor?’ they called me a communist.”
The Establishment desires us to do good but never challenge them or the system that enables their hold on society.
The religious leaders were not exempt from his criticism. He was no nice guy. He chastised the Scribes and the Pharisees and severely reprimanded those who characterised themselves as teachers. He sparred with them when they mocked the poor or made fun of what ostracised people had to offer.
The outcast was at the centre of His work on earth. Why do we turn our backs on the poor? If we do this, what is the use of the Christmas message?
Mary’s Boy Child was a troublemaker who turned things upside down. He opposed those in charge who oppressed the poor and needy. He was not meek and mild. He challenges us today to help those who are downtrodden and in need of help.
Shall we stay at the manger? Mary’s Boy Child calls us to right the wrongs of the society in which we live. Which one will we choose this Christmas?
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