This story takes place at the edge of empire and completely out of sight of the state and its power. Though in ways unintentional and unknown to the powerful and the State act in concert with God, for their own undoing. Not immediately, not in away that to us looks timely or efficient, but undone all the same.
A Christianity associated with empires and conquerors, especially as it did the period of European colonization, distorts this story of God’s incarnation in the person Jesus of Nazareth. As Mary’s song, the Magnificat, says God never sides with the powerful and the conqueror. So much of White and European Christianity is condemned in this story of the birth of Jesus.
No one of import in the Roman Empire is aware of this moment when God comes into the world as one of us, a human, a Jew. In this moment of the Holy Nativity the rich and powerful have no standing and aren’t even in the picture.
God is born under the oppression of the Roman Empire, whose dictates must be followed, whose peace is achieved through the brutality of its military. This is the situation in which God comes, and becomes human: God’s people Israel, are still a conquered people, and God doesn’t come to King Herod’s, a puppet king of Rome, but comes to the common oppressed. Not only comes to them but becomes one of them. Yes, they may have traced their lineage to King David, but make much of that supposed lineage and the might of Rome would put an end to any who made such claims.
There is something odd and counter-intuitive to the joy of this is good news worthy of Joy. God doesn’t come this time and defeat Rome like God defeated Pharaoh and Egypt at the Red Sea. Rather God comes vulnerable and becomes one of the oppressed and poor of the world. This time no emissaries are sent to the halls of power, rather heralds announce God’s arrival to shepherds in open fields. This extraordinary story of the birth of Christ, is a most ordinary story, of God coming in our midst, among the poor and powerless,- as the poor and powerless. There is no shock and awe here, no show of force, no threat.
The light that shines in darkness doesn’t come from halls of power, but from a small village in the back-water corner of the Roman Empire, a village that few of significance in Rome knew existed. This is where God choose to live.
This is liberation, that God is one with those who are deemed unworthy, who are seen as lazy, who are forgotten and
abandoned. This announcement o our liberation in the Holy Nativity says, and if we are looking for God to show up in the halls of power, the
Holy Nativity tells us we are looking in the wrong place. The powerful may move but if it is movement in concert with God’s work among the people of the world, it is for their own undoing, not that the powerful act with or for God. This is Christmas, the Holy Nativity, the world upended, God changes the world through becoming a powerless human being, that everyone of import can ignore.