Whether you come to this Christmas with absolutely no faith or an abundance of it, it is likely that — whatever your belief system — it has been challenged this year. Trying to put a time of tragedy, tyranny, catastrophe, and hope into a framework tests our understanding of who we are and why we are here. As millions worldwide kneel before a decorated evergreen tree today to retrieve shiny packages, do we dare consider a nexus between the Christmas story and these strange and unusual times in which we live?
In a lecture titled “Introduction to the Idea of God,” Jordan Peterson points out, “The ritual lasts long after the reasons are forgotten.” That is, we give gifts and open presents, but do we have the foggiest idea why? The truth is that understanding Christmas is what pulls all the puzzle pieces together, rearranges our psychological tumblers, and brings meaning to the trials and tribulations of our lives.
The Tyrants of Christ’s Era
As we prepare to close out 2020, we may reflect on the tyranny of a virus or government authorities who tell us where we can go, when, and with whom. This is strikingly similar to the era in which Jesus was born.
The accounts that have been handed down through the centuries tell us that Emperor Caesar Augustus “issued a decree” that a census should be taken “of the entire Roman world.” At the time, the country where Jesus arrived was a vassal state of the Roman empire. This decree was not a suggestion but a mandate. Like it or not, everyone was forced to trek to their hometown “to register.” Even though Mary was in no shape to travel, Joseph put her on a donkey, and off they went to Bethlehem in Judea. This small town, which exists to this day, is where the Christ Child came into existence. It was not a noble birth but one of poverty situated in a land of bondage and tyranny.
Later in the story of Jesus’ birth, we come upon the three wise men. Those were tumultuous times as well – perhaps more so. Most scholars believe it was Herod the Great, King of Judea, who ordered the execution of all male children under the age of two. Known commonly as the massacre of the innocents, it was the act of a craven despot. Even though this was an era of pronounced tragedy and terror, the three wise men risked life and limb to go worship the Christ Child.
Hearing all this should help put 2020 in perspective.
Our nation is filled with radical events, both social and political, that swirl around us, just as they did in Jesus’ time. Understanding the biblical context helps us see that God was in charge. He was intimately involved and carefully arranging these events in the lives of Mary and Joseph. It was not happenstance that Jesus was born at that moment in history, and God was not surprised by the events that took place.
In fact, a careful reading of the Bible demonstrates that God organized it all. He was not shocked by Caesar Augustus’ order. He knew the condition of Mary. He understood the bondage of his people and the oppressive times in which they lived.
Has it occurred to you that the coronavirus has not caught God off guard? That he is fully aware of the many trespasses upon your liberties? Have you considered that He sees and, yes, even knows you? This Christmas 2020 may be precisely the right time to search for answers to these questions.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.