DECEMBER 25, 2010: CHRISTMAS (Eucharist at Midnight)
A few months ago a woman reporter was allegedly harassed in a pro-football locker-room.
Shortly after the incident, a sports analyst was asked why female reporters think it important to invade such a “sacred precinct” immediately after a game. Can’t they just wait a half-hour or so for players and coaches to get cleaned up, put on their street clothes and hold a press conference? The analyst responded, “It’s important for a reporter to get a player’s reaction to something immediately after it happens. If he has time to think about it and formulate his response, he’ll almost always give you a different read on the event.”
Many of us forget that our Christian sacred authors aren’t giving us immediate locker-room reports about Jesus’ birth. They had almost 80 years to think about what they were going to say about it.
Their delay especially surfaces when we hear them employ the writings of other sacred authors. No one in Isaiah’s original audience, for instance, would have thought the prophet was predicting Jesus’ birth when he proclaimed,”.... A child is born to us; a son is given us; upon his shoulders dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-forever, Prince of Peace.” Scholars believe Isaiah is simply describing Hezekiah: King Ahaz’ newborn son. He never intended that his listeners focus on a stable in Bethlehem.
Yet since not even Hezekiah ushered in the ideal age the Israelites were expecting, it makes sense that Jesus’ early followers eventually applied these words to him, the leader they believed would actually bring this special period into existence. Of course, they were looking at this text from a 700 year perspective.
Even Paul’s disciple who authored the letter to Titus had more than a lifetime to reflect on Jesus before he wrote. Like Isaiah, he revolved his desire for a better world around one specific individual. Only this time it wasn’t a person recently born, it was Jesus, born several generations before he composed his letter.
Jesus had already died and rose. That’s why the author tells his readers, “It was he (Jesus) who sacrificed himself for us, to redeem us from all unrighteousness and to cleanse for himself a people of his own, eager to do what is right.” Other Christs not only look back fondly on Jesus’ coming, they also look forward to the things they’re committed to carry out in order to make that ideal world a reality.
All who carefully read Luke/Acts know the evangelist had “a thing” about the Roman Empire. Since the great anti-Christian persecutions had yet to begin, Luke believed Christians had nothing to fear from Rome, neither did Rome have anything to fear from Christians. They should be able to peacefully co-exist.
That seems to be why he starts his birth narrative with a decree from Caesar Augustus. Rome actually was responsible for Jesus being born in Bethlehem - the city of David - and not in the back-water town of Nazareth. A representative of the Empire, along with angels and shepherds, gives us a hint about who this child is and will become. A lot of reflection went into today’s gospel pericope.
I often wonder about people’s reaction at the actual time Jesus was born. Most “in the locker-room” would have seen no significance in the event. That would come only during the biblical “press conference.”
Perhaps that’s why we Christians have yet to transform our world as the risen Jesus intends it to be transformed. We fail to notice the significance of our everyday, humdrum lives.
What a waste of a lifetime! Will it take 80 years for someone to eventually look back and discover what each of us could have done to change our world? Maybe we should start the reflection process right here and now.