Surprised by Bethlehem

Somewhere down there, below the tinsel, the Bing Cosby music, and the shopping frustrations – somewhere down there lies the baby Jesus and the good news for all peoples. But we have to dig. We have to push aside the clutter and the frantic. If we really do find the baby and hear the chorus, if we do meet the shepherds and the heavenly host, we will probably be surprised. If we are not surprised by what we find, perhaps we haven’t dug far enough.

Consider the aspects of this story that render it alien. And then consider all we must learn if we are to move past the surprise to understanding.

First, this baby is an Asian infant. If we had a picture of him at 19 or 29, he would have a head of black curly hair, probably a short black beard, wide face, and muscular shoulders. Sound familiar? Or better, sound unfamiliar? This is an Asian child with the features of a Middle Easterner as seen today in Iraq and Palestine.

If we are to move past surprise, we face a radical re-orienting. Their ways are certainly not our ways. How do they treat feet and the soles of their shoes? Never show them! And family, the clan, meals, uncles, and aunts? Different. The list goes on, further than we imagine. True, they were under the rule of Rome, but the commerce from the East on the Silk Road did more to color their culture. We need a re-orientation to receive an Asian Messiah.

Then there are the faiths represented. Especially the strange one, Zoroastrianism. Fire, temples, wise men/priests, the number 19. We still have some unfamiliar to us – Sunni Islam, distinct from Shiite , distinct from Sufi, distinct from Wahhabi. Insignificant distinctions? We don’t know until we have bothered to learn.

And there are the faceless personae of the story – the shepherds who appear only in these verses of Luke, the other homeless who might have slept on the other side of the manger from our Lord. Do we note them today well enough to recognize their part in our Lord’s drama?

Surprises await us as we dig, surprises layered over by the season. But if we are to connect the baby with the prologue of John, the good news of Gabriel with tomorrow’s headlines, the angel’s chorus with our level of hope, then dig until surprised. That will bring our praises from greater depth and with greater joy.

Look it Up

This birth is one of the most beautifully orchestrated events in the Bible. Hints of it abound in the Old Testament. Search the cross-references for deeper dimensions and better details to appreciate the event.

Think About It

The things which sometimes become clutter have the intent of adding significance to the season. What are some nuances and added insights from your family traditions and decorations?


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