Shame at the First Christmas

mary-and-joseph-603772I was talking with someone the other day about Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem and their “not-so-warm” reception when they arrived.  I know there are a lot of explanations out there that say in with the animals was the best place to stay, but really?  Doesn’t it seem a little more plausible that the emphasis on “no room at the inn” is there because it was a slap in the face that they didn’t get a room?

If everyone was returning to ancestral homes for the census, then Joseph (and Mary) had family in Bethlehem.  Not only did they have family, but their extended family also was returning to the same town.  Add to that the Middle Eastern reputation for hospitality (and there always being room for one more) and one can get the distinct picture that this couple was denied space with their family.

Why?

Shame.  Mary was pregnant.  Joseph was not yet living with her.  One tradition even has Joseph being much older than Mary, so the pregnancy was most likely viewed as not involving Joseph at all (old or young, the timing was off).  The family kept them out because Mary brought shame upon them.  Then they had to go to an inn, most likely explain why their family would not take them in, and end up in the stable.

Is that not just the way God seems to work, turning things completely upside down?  One of the greatest shames of all, being an unwed pregnant girl, is actually the most honoring event in the entire history of the universe, being the Mother of God!  The rejection that Mary and Joseph faced from even their own family contrasted with the acceptance of all humanity by God.

As many of us travel this Christmas season, let us remember how Mary and Joseph’s family reacted to them, holiday family dynamics in the extreme.  And let us be thankful that most of us will not have to deal with being rejected by our families.

For those that do experience that pain and rejection this time of year, perhaps the rest could figure out a way to turn that around and have it become a blessing for all.  I am sure, if we look at examples from Scripture and our own Church history, it would not take long to come up with some solutions that would turn sorrow into joy, pain into celebration, and rejection into acceptance.

 

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Advent Thoughts

Gerard_van_Honthorst_001In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.  This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And with it, a rebellion began.

Lots of times we forget that at the time of Jesus’ birth, Judas the Galilean began his revolt against Rome.  This began with cleansing the Temple, refusing to pay taxes, the crucifixion of Judas, and the continuation of his movement.  In fact, this was the fourth large sect of Jewish people in the 1st century (after Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes), the Zealots.

This was a violent reaction to the Roman Empire.  Judas’ followers did not disappear, but retreated into the wilderness until the time was right.  They came back with a vengeance, started a revolution in 66, and were eventually trapped in the desert compound of Masada, and committed mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans.  Their revolt led directly to the destruction of the Temple.

We, as Christians, have to be careful we do not adopt the methods or goals Judas had, especially at this time of year.  With the (real or imagined) war on Christmas, the societal shift on homosexuality, or any other number of issues, we can get angry–sometimes to the point of using militant language–and demand our rights.  This is what Judas did.

Jesus was different.  He held people to a higher standard.  It did not matter what was legal or permissible or even acceptable in the sight of the culture around him.  If it conflicted with the holy life to which Jesus called his followers, they simply did not engage in it.

The message of Jesus is Good News for the entire world.  We need to make sure we proclaim it as such, not with angry rhetoric, but with peace on earth and good will towards all.  This time of year people look at the Church who usually do not give it a second thought.  Let us make sure we are following not Judas the Galilean, but Jesus of Nazareth.

Judas leads to death and destruction.  Jesus leads to life and salvation.

Judas saw government as the enemy.  Jesus saw sin as the enemy.

Judas fought violence with violence.  Jesus fought violence with love.

Judas tried to redeem a nation.  Jesus did redeem the entire universe.

Judas’ movement led to the destruction of the Temple.  Jesus’ movement led to the creation of a Temple that spans the globe.

Judas’ movement died.  Jesus’ movement still lives and grows.

Happy Advent!

Yes, America, There is a Santa Claus

529711b7-21dc-431b-8e03-8c1c5a080b4bThis time of year the fat man in the red suit makes quite an appearance.  From Coke to malls to everything in between, Santa is ubiquitous.

For those who are interested, there is a great website that has collected all of the historical information we have on St. Nicholas and how this historic person has become the “Santa with a Coke” we have today.

There are plenty of crafts, stories, and ideas for celebrations this year that may be out of the ordinary for many people.  I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Merry Christmas!

St. Nicholas Research Centersaint-nicholas6