As we approach the season of Advent this year, with so many unexpected and terribly disrupted events, it might be good for us to think back 2000 years to that first Christmas, when Jesus was born. With all our political turmoil (as I write this mid-November, the election is still in the courts) and unanswered questions about the virus, maybe some perspective could help, I hope.
To start, and at very least, the land of the children of Israel, Judah, was under complete control of the Romans. The Roman taxes were ruthlessly collected. The streets of the cities and roads of trade were patrolled by Roman soldiers. The Jewish people themselves were allowed to worship the Lord their God without participating in the official Roman religion and without punishment, but that special dispensation could be rescinded at any moment, forcing them to make sacrifices to the Roman gods or face a possible death sentence if they refused.
Then, in that context, bad as it was, the emperor decreed that everyone had to go to the city of their ancestors for a census. To us a census may make sense; we just finished one a few months ago. But to the Jews it was an insult. There was, in the law of Moses, a prohibition against any census, so it must have rankled them even more.
Now, traveling to Bethlehem, the city of his ancestor David, journeys Joseph of Nazareth and his VERY pregnant betrothed wife Mary. We all know the story. No room at the inn. No surprise. I’ve always thought it was the innkeeper’s wife who figured out what was happening. “Can’t you see she’s about to have a baby? At least give them a place where it’s quiet and where they can have some clean straw to bed down on! Ah! Men! What do they know??”
And so, in an obscure stable in an almost unknown town in the most remote corner of the Roman Empire, a baby was born to a people and a land oppressed by foreign rule and pagan culture. By the way, I understand that in those days, approximately one woman in 30 died in child birth and only one child in five lived to see his sixth birthday. Even without the Roman oppression, times were not good.
Today, we worry about who’s going to be President. It would appear that, at least 2000 years ago, God wasn’t too concerned about political power or who was going to control what. “I have good news for you! For today, in Bethlehem, a savior has been born who is Jesus the Messiah!” In 2020, politics and viruses are significant, of course. And even in the face of all of that, we want to remember God has sent a savior to us and all people.
New thought: the first Sunday in Advent is November 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. During Advent, we will have a wreath for the sanctuary services, but beyond that, there’s not a lot planned formally till the Christmas Eve service which will be readings and sharing the Christ flame. Even so, stay in touch with others, and keep praying that God will soon make it possible for us to gather in worship as one.
Pastor Rob Branch, interim