It is a very good question, and more than worthy of our reflection.
Over the years I've come to the conclusion that grappling with this question is especially important as we consider both our own understandings of this person named Jesus and, even more so, as we consider how he is to be understood by our children (the next generation).
Moreover, the answer to this question will be extremely important to those of us who are concerned for the health. well-being and just development of our communities. Of course, I realize that not everyone who works in the arena of community development comes at the task from a faith perspective.
But, I do.
So, the question is vital to me and to my understanding of my own work.
Just from the various birth narratives we gain important insights, some possibly surprising, about the nature of this amazing person.
Consider what the Christian literature claims about this child:
- He will be a revolutionary leader whose values will shake up power structures for the benefit of the poor and the powerless (Luke 1: 46-55).
- He was born in a stable thanks to the fact that "there was no room" in the inn for him or his parents--likely an indication of the family's poverty; this child was born in conditions not unlike those experienced every day in Dallas by the homeless who "camp" under our bridges and endure life with nowhere to really rest. On occasion, babies enter our world in such circumstances (Luke 2:1-7).
- He was born to very poor parents, as is made clear when they offer two doves as a sacrifice of dedication, the gift reserved for the poor (Luke 2:22-24).
- He was understood to be source of "salvation" to all people, not just one group (Luke 2:29-32).
- So far as the community at large was concerned, he was born to an unwed mother (Matthew 1:18).
- His arrival signals the coming of forgiveness of sin, the advent of salvation and the redemption of the city of Jerusalem (Matthew 1:21; Luke 2:38).
- He was understood to be a new king who would rule on the basis of a new set of values (Matthew 2:1-2, 6).
- He was an immigrant (King Herod would have considered him "illegal" for certain!), along with his parents who depended upon foreign hospitality for his safety and survival (Matthew 2:13).
Christmas means many things to us. For me, at least in part, it is a time of reflection. The birth of Jesus and the circumstances surrounding his birth reveal so much about the purpose of his coming. The birth stories remind me of the fundamental values that direct our work in the city with and among the very poor.