The story is startling in its simplicity. A young couple, she pregnant with her first child, forced to travel in harsh weather to his hometown to be taxed. He is a peasant who builds furniture, so not much to tax there. When they arrive in Bethlehem, there are no decent rooms, so they huddle down in a stable behind the inn. The baby is born. Unprecedented, astounding things happen – sights seen and words spoken. The mother is reflective. But not for long. The powers that be are frightened into violent reaction at the news they have heard and the family is focused to flee to Egypt as refugees. They survive, then thrive, return home, raise the boy in their faith, watch him launch out into a risky life as an itinerant teacher, have their worst fears realized when he is arrested and executed for blasphemy and treason. But then, in words of Presbyterian minister and Pulitzer-prize winning writer Frederick Buechner, “all heaven broke loose” with the resurrection and the launching of the long-promised Commonwealth of God.
Followers of this Jesus, in various ways and to various degrees, believe that he is God breaking into human history to inaugurate the reign of SHALOM or wellbeing for the whole of creation. That is what they celebrate at Christmas.
These ponderings arise from that faith. They point to a hope that the love we see in Jesus is, in fact, the governing power in this universe, despite all appearances.
A Threatening Presence
Jesus’ presence terrifies Herod to the point that he orders a slaughter of all the first-borns in his kingdom. He is an imperial puppet who craves power and prestige. Any threat to that privilege has to be eliminated. It is blasphemous and seditious. His naked ambition appears to rule the day. Do those sentiments sound familiar, with echoes is our current world situation? Ponder what the power of real SHALOM in our midst would mean and how you might find the courage to contribute to its spread
A Promising Presence
There are others, however, who find this Jesus intriguing and ultimately attractive. They are shepherds, fisherman, beggers, shady characters on the margins of respectable society. Some of the more serious scholars of Jesus’ community find his interpretations of the tradition surprisingly astute. What Jesus revives in Judaism by his presence is the covenant with Abraham and Sarah through whom all peoples on earth, and the earth itself, will be blessed with SHALOM. That is the promise that drives Jesus and attracts his followers. Ponder what resonates deep in your soul when you pay attention to the possibilities that arise from the promise to be a blessing.
A Healing Presence
In the final analysis, for Christians, Jesus’ coming begins the process of healing all the ills that beset us. They arise when we seek security, affection, and power in all the wrong places. The Christian witness is that flourishing health is nourished only when we find our true selves in relationship with the God who came to be with us in Jesus and remains with us through the work of the Holy Spirit. The healing process is a dance of delight that draws us into the flow of God’s energy as it was originally intended – a flow of justice, peace, and beauty that encompasses all of creation. Ponder how you are already participating in that dance.
At Christmas, we Christians, following the example of Mary, ponder all of these things in our hearts and celebrate every and any sign of SHALOM that appears from whatever source. It is one of many ways of seeing and acting in the world in our diverse society. We welcome the diversity and stay gentle in our witness to the original meaning of Christmas.
Brian Fraser is lead provocateur of Jazzthink and minister with Brentwood Presbyterian Church in Burnaby, BC. He works primarily with not-for-profit staffs and boards convening COOL conversations for SMARTer leadership. You can find out more at www.jazzthink.comand www.brentwoodpc.ca.
*[The art work in this article is by John Stuart, a Scot who ministers to a Presbyterian church in Tennessee, and is used with permission. More of his delightful work can be found at www.stushieart.com.)
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE