Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas in the Empire - by William Willimon


I wonder how many of us have ever played a role in a Christmas or Epiphany pageant. Was it an animal (for me, a donkey), a shepherd, one of the Magi, an angel, Mary, Joseph...? One of my favorite writers is William Willimon, who is now a United Methodist Bishop and used to be Dean of the Chapel at Duke University. He offers a challenging and helpful reflection about where we (as Christians in the United States) might place ourselves in the story of Christmas. I have posted an excerpt below, and you can read the rest HERE.

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Christmas in the Empire, by William Willimon

On Christmas Eve we read a story about how a poor couple named Mary and Joseph were forced by imperial political decrees to pack up, to journey across the countryside (even though Mary was expecting a baby), to hold up in a cow stable, all as the result of Caesar’s enrollment. The Romans had the most power, and the biggest army of any Western country ever to conquer the Middle East. How are you going to keep these Jews in their place if you don’t enroll them? So Caesar Augustus decreed, and cruel King Herod enforced, the order that everybody had to go to the city of his or her ancestors and get registered. Mary and Joseph were Jews, under the heel of the vast Roman Empire, the greatest Empire the world has ever known, with the largest army of occupation — that is until us.

When I read the Christmas story, it is unfair for me to read myself into the places of Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, or even the wise men. This was their home. They are under the heel of the Empire, their lives jerked around by imperial decrees.

I live in Rome with Caesar Augustus, or maybe in Jerusalem up at the palace with that King Herod, lackey for the Roman overlords. I’d rather see myself as one of the relatives of Mary and Joseph. I wouldn’t mind being one of the shepherds, out working the night shift, surprised when the heavens filled with angels.

But that is not my place in the story. My place in the story is as a beneficiary of the Empire. I am well fixed. I don’t live up in the palace, but I live in a home which -- with its modern conveniences and security -- the majority of the world’s people would call a palace.

Read the rest HERE.

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