I’d like to tell you the story of the life of a King.
A single mother, Mary, in an out-of-the-way province gives birth away from home and family. Her saintly spouse, Joseph, nurtured by his faith and his dreams, wants to do God’s will. But it is an inscrutable will asking a lot from him and not giving him too much in the way of what to do next.
In a strange town without a place to live or even visit, the young couple find themselves sheltering in place in a dirty barn. The only place to put the Baby is in the straw where the animals eat. Exposed to the cold and lack of privacy, they are visited by homeless shepherds replete with tales of angelic armies in the sky.
Where did they eat? Who looked after them? Perhaps it was the charity of neighbors who felt sorry for them. Maybe Joseph found some local work to help with expenses and the trip to the temple to redeem this Newborn that he will give his own name to. His name will shelter the Child from the talk of strangers, always eager for the tidbits of gossip, especially at some other person’s expense. Jesus, Son of Joseph. It was not true, but it would do to protect this innocent Child and His saintly mother who could not lie if she tried.
Then the danger increased: There was talk of the Child’s special role in the future. Talk of Him being the next military king like David who would defeat the hated oppressors from Rome. This talk did not sit well with the powers that be. The Child and probably His family could easily be on a death list. The eccentric trio of wise men who came with strange gifts only highlighted the Child’s future and made many people very nervous, not the least Mary and Joseph. They were so defenseless. They only had the assurances of the messengers that God sent in dreams and in unexpected epiphanies.
Then there were rumors about Herod, the ruler of Judea, who had gotten wind of the scent of insurrection. He had been rumored to have killed his son and even his own mother. This was someone you did not want to upset or make nervous.
People that Joseph knew had gotten word that the strange trio defied the King and went away by another route. The locals told Joseph he should flee before things got bloody. That night, another messenger told him to run as quickly as he could with the Child and His mother. They had to get out of town and even out of the country. Only later did they find out about the blood bath that they escaped from.
Into Egypt they fled, hoping to find safety for the Child who upset everyone before He could even walk or talk.
By the time they got back to Nazareth, “Joseph’s son” could walk and talk. His mother watched the unlikely mystery of the will of God unfolding.
It would be almost 30 years before His mission would be clear. In the meantime, the young man Jesus took care of his Dad and Mom by laboring and working in a ‘hidden life’. Soon events would lead Him to a charge of blasphemy and sedition against the state; and then Capital Punishment of a particularly horrendous kind awaited Him.
And His mother was there for this, too, having buried her beloved husband; and now she waited for her Son to be lowered from the tree of punishment: punishment for being a truthful, loving, prophetic Man who may also be the Son of God.
Sounds crazy, no? How is this the story of a King? But this is what we celebrate every Sunday! And in a more intimate way, we will celebrate the beginning of this story on Christmas. In our merriment at the festivities of His birth, with the secular traditions of trees, parties, carols, and gift-giving, let us never forget that Jesus’ was not the privileged path of the powerful, but the chosen path of righteousness and poverty.
What was God thinking? Why all this poverty and danger and uncertainty: from a sheltering stable to being homeless refugees in a strange country, where they spoke an unknown language. And, finally, to the slow agonizing death of the Cross. What Father would do this to their Son? But our way of thinking is not the same as God’s. Consider Jesus’ rebuke to Peter, “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do” (Mat 16:23). This way of telling of the Life of Our Lord is necessary to truly understand His Birth, just as His Birth is necessary for our salvation.
In the ways of sin, He was still just a child, like His mother. But in the enlightened way of God, this story makes complete sense. Therefore, this Christmas, let us come joyfully to the celebration of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ by remembering the true meaning of Christmas:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).