i grew up in the church and have heard the Christmas story countless times. i’ve seen plays and movies of it, heard retellings of it, read it, studied it, meditated on it. as with many things we’re repeatedly exposed to, Jesus of the Christmas story can easily become someone we can feel familiar with and touch over without him getting to our heart. on top of this, with the commercialization of Christmas there has been a sanitizing of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth that can be easy to miss.
given that, as the gospel accounts make clear, Jesus was the God of the universe in human flesh, here are just some of the elements in the accounts of the arrival of Jesus into our world that seem peculiar at best and, at times, downright troubling:
1. the era of his birth – Jesus is estimated to have been born around 6 to 4 AD.
why was he born in such a “backwards” time? why not when there would be better medical innovation and technology for health care and life expectancy? why not when there would be the internet to make wider announcement of his arrival? why not a time when Israel was in a better place politically, not under roman control and occupation?
2. the mother he was born to – Jesus was born to a poor dark-skinned palestinian-jewish teenage girl.
why wasn’t Jesus born to a mom with more experience, education, credentials, and financial/social status?
3. the father that would raise him: Jesus’ earthly father was not his biological father and was a poor worker in construction.
especially, if men at this time were the main financial breadwinners of the home, why was Jesus born into such a poor family? why into a home where the family business was manual labor (maybe in our modern times carpenters make more money but we know the family was most likely poor because when these young parents take Jesus to the temple all they could offer were pigeons for sacrifice, an offering reserved for those who were too poor to offer a lamb. we also know that by the time of Jesus’ death his father has most likely already passed away as the care of his mother mary was given to the apostle john. if this was the case, that means joseph had probably already passed by the age of 50…this was not an easy life.).
4. the timing of his birth: Jesus was conceived by Mary BEFORE she was married to the person she was engaged to…and impregnated by a different Father.
yes, the virgin birth was what was supposed to happen according to the prophecy but why couldn’t God have sent an angel to Joseph to explain the circumstance while they were getting married and Jesus have been conceived AFTER they were married? at the very least, if the timing of the virgin birth were pushed back a little later this could have saved all of them them A LOT of shame of such scandalous talk and rumors, especially in such traditional times and a deeply religious culture. what would it have been like for mary whose child’s origins were continually second-guessed and her explanation sounded incredulous and awfully self-congratulating? what would it have been like for joseph to see his firstborn son and raise him knowing that he wasn’t the true father? what would it have been like for Jesus to grow up being ridiculed as a bastard child?
5. the place he was born – he was born in a food trough in a stable that was most likely a cave.
why was Jesus, literally, born in such a disgusting place? ok, so his parents couldn’t afford better accommodations on their trip to Bethlehem, but seriously, why wasn’t the savior of the world born where humans lived instead of being born where animals lived?
6. the announcement of his birth to shepherds – shepherds worked with animals so they were unclean and unable to participate in the religious activities of the temple.
out of the all the groups of people the “heavenly host” of angels could have arrived to why did they arrive to uncouth, stinky, and solitary shepherds? why make a religious announcement to religiously unclean folks? unclean folks who worked with animals and not just any animals but probably some of the stupidest and most easily frightened animals?
the circumstance of his most critical early years – king herod, in his paranoia of rumors of another king being born, ordered the massacre of all jewish babies to the age of two, forcing Jesus family to flee to egypt then back to nazareth after the king had died.
why was Jesus born during the reign of such a notoriously jealous and violent king? couldn’t Jesus birth been delayed until king herod died? why were he and his parents forced to become refugees to another country? then move back into a no good ghetto like nazareth to be raised? why all this transition in the most critical years of a child’s development?
why was Jesus born into such difficult life circumstances? certainly not circumstances befitting any king of this world. i have some thoughts and potential answers to these questions for which there isn’t enough time. however, at least one things has become clear to me – Jesus is not afraid to identify with and live in our suffering. the God of the universe came into our most scandalous, disgusting, and unpresentable places. he chose to be raised and be identified with the most marginalized of people. when we are broken by the suffering in our world and in our very lives, let the nature of his arrival be a light of hope to us. could it be that the manner of his arrival was this intentional in order to know our suffering?
this is our Jesus. this is our God who is with us.