Immanuel, God with Us
I’m no theologian, nor an expert in Biblical context or contemporary commentary. But I wanted to do a Christmas post that connected the birth of Jesus to our present reality: taking the reality of what things were like at the time of Jesus’ birth and connecting them to our political, economic, social, and theological present.
My research was far from exhaustive, as it started with the four Gospels and then moved to various Google searches. But, in that work, I found 6 main points that connect Jesus’ birth with our present. They are as follows:
2. Unplanned Pregnancy
4. Systemic Violence
Here are those 6 points explained.
Jesus was born into poverty, into a 3rd World context. That simple fact raises some really important questions for us: How does Jesus’ poverty influence our understanding of and reaction to those in need in our own communities? How does it influence our thinking on the widening wealth gap in America? How does it influence our next steps in light of the severe economic impact of the pandemic on those that are most vulnerable in our country – let alone its impact on the vulnerable around the world? Jesus was born into 3rd World poverty. Does our faith cause us to empathize with and act for those in a similar situation?
A teenage Mary became pregnant by the Holy Spirit prior to marrying Joseph. Of course we know that the pregnancy was initiated by the Holy Spirit, but that’s easy for us to say in hindsight. Joseph was ready to quietly end their engagement once he found out she was pregnant – as he knew the baby wasn’t his. It took an ANGEL OF THE LORD to convince Joseph to stay with Mary and, together, raise the Savior of the world. Can you imagine all the gossip among Mary and Joseph’s community as everyone watched the unwed teenager’s baby bump grow? Yet, we now know her as the Virgin Mary, the one who gave birth to the Son of God, the mother of the Savior of the world. In her pregnancy, she had “found favor with God” (Luke 1:30). What does this say about how we should view 1) unplanned pregnancies, 2) abortion, adoption, and the sacredness of life, 3) gossip, and 4) purity culture?
Jesus was born into a military dictatorship, and the only reason why Mary and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem was due to a census of the entire Roman world called for by Caesar Augustus. Which raises questions about our own present-day empire. We are the most powerful country in the world – militarily, politically, economically, and more. The tentacles of the American empire reach to every corner of the globe. Thankfully, we are a democracy, not a military dictatorship. But when Congress passes an almost $800 billion defense bill in December 2020 while, at the same time, not being able to pass a bill that supports working Americans amidst a pandemic – we are far from a perfect union. Moreover, our foreign policy is far from perfect as well. How does Jesus’ birth into a military dictatorship influence our understanding of America’s role as the leading superpower in the world? Shouldn’t we challenge our political leadership to lead “not with the example of our power, but [by] the power of our example?”
Upon hearing about the supposed birth of the “King of the Jews,” Herod King of Judea killed all the boys of Bethlehem under the age of 2 – an attempt to ward off a challenge to his power. Jesus’ birth in the face of systemic violence brings us face to face with our country’s own systemic violence. We have our history of slavery and Jim Crow, and we have our present realities of mass incarceration of and police brutality towards people of color. How does the systemic violence carried out by Herod at the time of Jesus’ birth influence our thinking and actions related to Black Lives Matter, the broader fight for the civil rights of people of color, the recent state-sanctioned execution of Brandon Bernard, the current movement to abolish the Death Penalty, and, generally, our systemic inequalities?
As soon as Jesus was born, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus immediately became refugees as they fled the violence of the Herod regime. Mary and Joseph were prompted BY AN ANGEL NO LESS to flee to Egypt. That is to say, God told Mary and Joseph to leave their homeland and live as refugees in Egypt until they could safely return after Herod’s death. How does Jesus’ early life as a refugee affect our thoughts on immigration? What would have happened if Egypt had not accepted this young family of refugees due to policies driven by xenophobia, nationalism, and protectionism? What if Egypt had turned the blessed family away because they didn’t want Mary, Joseph, and Jesus to be a drain on the nation’s safety nets? Or worse, what if they stuck them in detention centers at the border, and separated Jesus from his parents while in detention – only to give the family back to Herod? It is not enough to say that God is for and with refugees. It must be said that God Himself has been a refugee – which should greatly affect our understanding of immigration in this country.
God is with us, especially amidst really hard times. Jesus’ birth is God becoming human, the Creator embodying the flesh and blood of His creation as a means of calling all of humanity to Himself. And it all occurs amidst really difficult times for the people of God. Hundreds of years of seeming silence from God for the Jews. Occupation by a foreign empire, accompanied by strict, power-hungry religious authorities bent on control through religious rules. And yet, God arrives as Baby Jesus, and sets the precedent for the rest of human history: that even amidst hard times, God knows our suffering and is with us through it all. Immanuel, God is with us, even as we suffer through the darkest days of the COVID pandemic here in Christmas 2020 (with case numbers and daily deaths at their highest levels). Jesus was “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17), including, as an adult, weeping with us (John 11). And, most amazingly, he brought eternal life to all of humanity through his life, death, and resurrection. This is Immanuel, “God with us,” especially amidst trying times.
These are the 6 points that, for me, connect Jesus’ birth to our present day. Christmas is about Immanuel, “God with us,” amidst our hard times and the imperfections in our society.
In closing, I hope Christmas is a safe and wonderful time for you and your loved ones. Amidst Shelter in Place and masks and social distancing, God is with us. What an incredible gift in these crazy times. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.