Since the festival of Christmas commands a pre-eminent position – of observance and celebration – on Guyana’s Annual Calendar of National Events, I thought I’d pen a few lines to provoke thought and meditation relevant to the “Real Reason for the Season”.
That, of course, is the Divine Birth of the Christ Child. It is a tale of high drama – drama which embraces miracle, disbelief, the realities of poverty and migration and of abundant faith. I share the view, as do many theological scholars, that if Christians do not believe the drama of the Divine Birth and if they are uncertain about their Saviour’s Execution and Resurrec-tion, they are left with two mighty gaps relevant to their Christianity. But, to me, even acceptance can entertain further research, debate, even doubt.
Much of what follows – the descriptions and delineations and opinions surrounding a few principal players of the Nativity – is derived from the Christians’ Bible, the Jehovah Witnesses views and, of course, the Internet’s Wikipedia.
A Virgin-pure teenager
Apparently, according to one or two Prophets, it was decided – by God the Father (?) – that the manifestation of the Heavenly Almighty should be a male child who should be born of and to some innocent, untouched young female not yet guilty of all the sins that all inherit(ed) from the misdeeds of Adam and Eve and their descendants.
A fifteen/sixteen year old daughter of Heli named Mary was identified. She was of the House of David, him being a type of provincial Emperor/ ruler. Whatever the age of Consent was in those days in that part of the Middle Eastern world, the teen apparently had little choice in the matter. The messengers of God were very competent and busy couriers; they were/are described as angels. One “appeared” to the girl and declared that little she was “highly favoured” and that God Himself was with her. One Gospel writer reports that that first angel then explained that “she was to conceive, bear and raise God’s son”.
Imagine the reaction of this relative child. Confused and scared she probably prayed and trusted that the same God would see her through everything. Not much is recorded about Mary in biblical narratives. Debates continue concerning her “other children”. Did she bear earthly siblings to Jesus after the Nativity? Did she adopt or did her husband add his own children to her family? No space is here to discuss the numerous interesting speculations.
The old matured carpenter
I’m fascinated with the man who engaged little Mary and to whom the mantle of fatherhood of a Messenger/ Saviour was handed. Poor fellow, he too had little choice in the matter. For when he did decide to break off his engaged relationship with the young fiancé, he was swiftly persuaded not to do so. To me the ubiquitous “angel” even used a soft threat to dissuade Joseph.
Joe was also of the House of David. I always understood him to be about forty-plus in age. Now later research pegs him to have been double that. And he was a widower who lived in Nazareth, a village in lower Galilee. A skilled carpenter, it is not known what really drew him to the little village girl who was destined to become the Saintly Mother of the Son of God.
But he was livid when she first told him of her pregnancy; he was an honourable matured fellow who did not yet physically “know her” He was waiting for their wedding night. Now he decided to break off the engagement. Did she, a virgin, actually cheat on him? Then there were the taunts from the fellows in the village. But the angel reassured him that Mary’s pregnancy was divine in nature. She was not unfaithful. He obeyed the angelic emissary and took her home “unwilling to expose her to shame”. The further truth is: he probably spared her a stoning to death – a standard penalty for women found guilty of infidelity in those days.
We know of Joseph’s role as father and provider. He could find no vacant room or apartment in Bethlehem where he and his young pregnant partner had journeyed to be counted in Caesar Augustus’ census. The city was overflowing. Joseph was the resilient. Innovative type. He accepted the Stable and Manger as Mary was ready – an emergency.
I now read that he was married before and had six children. Speculation now suggests that those were Jesus’ earthly siblings. I am, however, intrigued that Joseph had to flee with Mary and young Jesus to North Africa — Egypt. King Herod wanted all Baby Boys dead! Joseph, Jesus and Mary thus became immigrants. Or Refugees!
King Herod (the Great) indeed displayed attributes of “greatness”. He strategically used his reign given by Rome to make Judea his own, despite threats from females dedicated to overthrowing him. He skillfully played his politics and religion to consolidate his own kingdom – one dominion of Rome’s Empire.
He loved to build lofty temples and monuments. But he was given to ordering executions and assassinations of his political enemies – and his wife.
So when the Astrologers – some Believers claim that they were three oriental Kings – asked Herod where they could locate the New-born King of the Jews – one toddler named Jesus – Herod directed them to let him know if and where they found the child as he too would want to honour him. Of course Herod, who paraded as a Jew, wanted to eliminate this “imposter” baby. But the “Wise Fellows” never betrayed the baby’s location thus allowing the now Holy Family to flee Bethlehem. Reportedly this drove the murderously, furious Herod to order the Massacre of all baby Boys, two years and under. Strangely there is no recorded evidence of this mass murder by the Dictator, as Bethlehem, in any case, was a relatively small town. But consider the role of this powerful and fanatical King after the nativity.
I trust that the foregoing notes would cause both Christians and others to reflect on the Virgin Birth’s Immaculate Conception and its consequences. The players in that drama were many. I have no space to discuss just who the (three) Maji were. Who were the first shepherds to see the Star and go to the worship the Baby? How did the Innkeeper feel when he offered his stable?
You all must now find time to reflect upon Jesus’ later life, his relatives His followers and His Mission. Was it really accomplished?
Have a pleasant, reflective Christmas 2017.