If you stand in the Shepherds field and look across the deep ravine and up to the hill on which stands The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, you begin to understand the ruggedness and tightness of the geography of the region in which Jesus was born and the stage for the birth and gathering of those who came to see and pay homage to this little family and the child lying in the manger. Bethlehem is a small town, beautiful buildings have capped the simplicity of the ancient place Jesus would have known, and place of pilgrimage is weighed down and buried underneath monumental sacred buildings, suffocating the plain ground on which a manger and cattle stall would have stood.
The shepherds and locals would have come to the place to see this child, vulnerable and tiny, out of place as it were as there was no where else to stay, even for a pregnant woman, a stranger to the town, a curiosity as word of the incident spread.
Half a days walk for the shepherds, the most unrevered of all society being called to go and see and adore this thing, this birth, which has come to pass. And the resident animals too. A story we know, repeated over and over again and from time to time taking on new meaning given our own journies and circumstances. It’s a human story with a divine twist that invites us to contemplate the possibility and mystery of the divine being born into an unsettled and oppressed world.
Roman leaders and Jewish teachers disturbed and unsettled by the possibility that prophesy and truth have finally met in an incarnation that has caused the divine to physically intersect with the world they saw as their domain and control with God on the side and strictly reserved for the pages of scripture and academic debate.
God comes to us earthlings, as one of us and as fragile and vulnerable as any new born, visited by the most ordinary of societies true participants in poverty and seemingly subject to all the risks and dangers as everybody else. The human gift has been seen, acknowledged, adored and exclaimed.
But there is another level. The recognition of the baby’s divine purpose and fulfillment of all that has been promised, from those who had travelled from afar, without bias, positive or negative, come to tell it how it will be and to confirm this is now how history will unfold and how the oppressed will ultimately be set free.
No wonder they choose to go home by another way. Why put the word become flesh back into the hands of the oppressors. This child has to find, like the wise men, another way, a new path, a new beginning to save all the people. And it begins with the ordinary and the rawness of the scene set by a poor couple’s circumstances mirroring those of millions through the ages whose circumstances are the similar, no where to lay their heads. But in this birth, new hope given to the poor, the oppressed, the hungry, those who are waiting and expectant for the sort of salvation, righteousness and truth that will bring a new age and relationship of closeness and mercy to which we can face this God of love with confidence and hope. And that we may become like him, because in his divine humanity, mercy and truth have kissed one another and we finally see God in our truth and understand something more of the divine nature which lies within each of us. To live in love and goodness, to show mercy to one another in our daily encounters.
The wise men saw all this and mysteriously disappeared back to the places from which they came. Mary pondering all these things in her heart, Joseph remaining obedient, soon to be refugees as they flee for protection amidst the great speculation and unrest that resulted, in the oppression of the times.
What can I give him, poor as I am. I give him my heart.
Bless you as we begin, exiled to the confines of our homes, the great journey into the season of epiphany, that as we receive the truth and ponder the mystery of this gift, that our journey home maybe a new path, another way, to the God who in the birth of Jesus offered us a new way, a living way.