When we talk about Christmas, when we discuss the night of Jesus’ birth, what comes to mind? What words, what images, what sights and sounds come to mind?
For most of us, we visualize the night of Jesus’ birth a lot like the scenes we see on TV shows and Christmas cards.
We believe that it was a quiet winter’s night; a star shining down on a stable; a birth; livestock in awe; shepherds in humble worship; a drummer boy drumming; angels hovering nearby; and three kings on camels traveling from afar bearing expensive gifts.
One of the most revered Christmas carols of all time, sung by everyone from Beyoncé to Nat King Cole, reinforces this picture of Christmas: “Silent night, holy night, all is calm … sleep in heavenly peace.”
But, what if I told you that what we believe about that night isn’t quite accurate?
We all know Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25. And we all know that there were no drummers, no support section of adoring animals and attendants and Jesus’ birth.
But, what if I told you that Jesus’ birth was anything but silent? Let me explain.
Jesus was born into a tumultuous, not-so-silent political environment.
Mary and Joseph headed to Bethlehem, according to the story of Jesus’ birth in the Gospel of Luke, to answer to the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus’ call for a census. This census was not for benevolent, altruistic reasons.
The census was ordered to properly account for all of the taxes the government needed to collect from the citizens of the Roman Empire and its conquered territories. Theologians estimate that the everyday working person paid as much as 60 percent of their income to the Roman Empire. And if an individual didn’t have enough to pay taxes, the government would simply send them back to work to get the money.
Further, Jesus was born into essentially what we would call “the struggle.” Judea was pillaged and conquered by the Roman Empire, which means Judea was under a military dictatorship.
Rome appointed Herod as the king of Judea and Herod was a brutal leader who not only crushed anyone who opposed him, but also kept the citizens sufficiently marginalized and depressed so that no potential opposition could ever rise against him.
What’s more, Jesus’ the house was stressed and not-so-quiet. Joseph, Jesus’ father, was working as a laborer many miles from his homeland. Which means it was probably difficult for him to find work anywhere. Add to that, a child on the way and questions about the fidelity of his partner, Mary, and that makes for anything but a quiet home environment.
Clearly, Jesus was born into a complex and troubled world and environment. But, He was not silent either. He made noise. He went on to lead a revolution that would change the way we think about God, love, politics and the world.
This advent, we have to make noise like Jesus. As we live in a similar environment in which Jesus was born, we have to speak truth to power. We must not be silent either.