A post I wrote as a guest contributor to the blog at On Being with Krista Tippett.
“The Ancient of Days has become an infant.”
John Chrysostom, 4th century
On Christmas Eve we read Luke’s dramatic account of the birth of Jesus. On Christmas Day we read the prologue from John’s gospel. At first glance these texts seem to offer two very different perspectives on the coming of Christ into the world: Luke’s is earthy and political, conveying the historical contingencies (and palpable dangers) that attended the first Advent; John’s is meditative and philosophical, written in academic Greek, locating the “Word made flesh” not in the provincial politics of first-century Palestine but boldly and unapologetically in the sweeping history of the cosmos.
But despite the differences there is, I suggest, an affinity, a necessary and even urgent correspondence between these two traditional Christmas narratives. In Luke, we glimpse what the tyranny of the imperium romanum meant for its subjects, especially those on the margins of empire geographically, ethnically, and religiously. In verses 1 through 5 it is clear that the events leading up to Jesus’ birth were no picnic – nothing like the familiar, beatific stuff of greeting-card sentimentality. Rather, despots and oligarchs populate the scene and the treacherous journey to the stable – labor pains upon labor pains – includes refugees on the run, authorities asking for papers, and risky border crossings.
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