Caesar’s imperial census compelled Mary and Joseph to the pilgrims’ path, far from home for their son’s birth to a world brimful of heartache and cruelty. King Herod’s murderous edict set the young family fleeing to Egypt where they lived several years as refugees. The sword, foretold by the prophet to pierce Mary’s very soul, would first cut countless others’ to the quick.
“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
Few carols lament the empty-armed mothers of Bethlehem, but their grief bore witness to ruthless political expedience and state violence long before that dark day in Golgotha. Or a tear-filled August in Ferguson.
“Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
The nativity of our manger-born King reveals an oppressive displacement not adequately conveyed by children’s Christmas pageantry. But Jesus’ babyhood did not exempt him from the rocky stranger’s path even as he was nursed at his mother’s breast. Lamb of God, on the lam before he was yet weaned. To follow in Christ’s steps is to know that same uncertain insecurity, the felt constancy only of the target on one’s back. Wholly welcome no tangible place, belonging only to mercurial sisters and brothers and an unseen, unchanging God, Emmanuel’s path leads ever outward from comfortable center to harried margin, dispossessed people, and cross.
And yet, somehow, to joy. Christ’s own chosen displacements–from heaven, Rome, and custom–can mend this hard world’s sharpest breaches. And we who’ll “do even greater things than these”, will call the castaways, bind up broken hearts, and walk the weary wanderers home at last. Repenting of our own callous casting out, wayward hearts, and dirty, colluding hands, we’ll “stay woke” this advent to light kindling even now in lands of deep darkness, fueled by cast off boots, blood-soaked garments, and every shattered yoke.
“to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
to shine on those living in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
We do not walk this lonesome way alone. Be strong and take heart, all who wait and watch and weep: Emmanuel, ransom of captives, is near.