Jesus’ humble beginnings teach us all

Freedom New Mexico

It looks as if those who constantly decry the commercialization of Christmas might have finally gotten their wish.

Those of us who ventured out for Christmas shopping this year found the crowds strangely thin and the discounts from desperate retailers surprisingly deep.

Of course, this cutback in Christmas spending — we won’t know the final statistics for some time now but we would be surprised if they are especially encouraging — is unlikely to have come from a sudden increase in spiritual awareness and a decline in materialism.

Instead, it has been a side effect of a recession that may not be as deep and wrenching as some alarmists believe but is still undeniably real. Even people who are still employed and haven’t had their pay cut feel pangs of uncertainty that have made the annual orgy of putting it on the plastic and worrying about the bills next year seem less sustainable than usual.

Countless retailers who depend on the Christmas season to seal their profitability for the year will be hurt, and of course those who have lost jobs or experienced pay cuts are hurting in ways many of us can hardly imagine. There is still time for those who still have resources to help out, remembering that the need does not end with the end of the holiday season.

This might also be a good year to contemplate just how unlikely and yet inspiring is the Christmas story.

Christmas, of course, celebrates the birth of Jesus, who, Christians believe, came to earth to save humankind from its multifarious sins and transgressions, to offer hope of salvation to those who believe.

If one thinks as the world does, one might have expected such an important child, destined to be the savior of the world, to have been born in a royal palace, surrounded by servants and luxurious trappings. And surely such a personage would be born in one of the imperial political capitals of the world at the time.

Yet Jesus was born in a politically insignificant backwater of the leading empire of the time, Rome — a province acquired almost off-handedly and noted mainly for its capacity to irritate its rulers rather than contributing much to their splendor.

Instead of being born in a royal palace, Jesus was born in a stable or a cave, his parents having been turned away from every decent inn in town. His earthly parents were not notables even in their local region, but modest people.

His birth was not announced to the political leaders and luminaries of society, but to a band of shepherds — an important occupation in a land where sheep were important both economically and symbolically, but hardly a high-status occupation.

The birth of Jesus, then, was not only an affront to the powerful of the earth, but a direct challenge to their self-importance. The child who would be proclaimed the Son of God came from the meek and lowly of the earth and sent the message that God placed no importance on worldly power or riches.

Whether one is a believing Christian or not, these insights into the nature of the God Christians profess — often enough only faintly understood or almost completely misunderstood by believers themselves — offer an important window into authentic Christianity.

If this year of uncertainty and vague fear is an occasion to help us understand the truly valuable things of this life are not found in power and riches but in our relationships — in our capacity to cherish our families, love our neighbors, stretch out a helping hand to those less fortunate, and seek reconciliation with those who would be our enemies — perhaps it will be a rich and blessed Christmas after all.