This year might be a good one to contemplate just how unlikely and yet inspiring the Christmas story is.
Christmas, of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus, who, Christians believe, came to Earth to save humankind from its multifarious sins and transgressions, to offer hope of salvation to those who believe. Yet the accretion of custom and the romanticization of the story sometimes keep us from seeing just how improbable, in terms of the ways of the world, this story is.
If one thinks as the world does, one might have expected such an important child, destined to be the savior of the world, to have been born in a royal palace, surrounded by servants and luxurious trappings. And surely such a personage would be born in one of the imperial political capitals of the world at the time.
Yet Jesus was born in a politically insignificant backwater of the leading empire of the time, Rome — a province acquired almost offhandedly and noted mainly for its capacity to irritate its rulers rather than contributing much to their splendor.
Instead of being born in a royal palace, Jesus was born in a stable or a cave, his parents having been turned away from every decent inn in town. His earthly parents were not notables even in their local region, but modest people. And because of the improbable story about being conceived by the Holy Spirit before the marriage of Joseph and Mary had been consummated, he came into the world with more than a whiff of scandal surrounding him. Even viewing him as respectable challenged the right-thinking people of his village.
His birth was not announced to the political leaders and luminaries of society, but to a band of shepherds — an important occupation in a land where sheep were important both economically and symbolically, but hardly a high-status occupation. The manner of the birth was not only an affront to respectability as understood by the rich and powerful of the Earth, it was seen as a threat to the powers-that-be of the day….