An Irruption Smelling of the Stable

Nativity_and_adoration_of_the_Magi

The preferential option for the poor the Christian must take up isn’t the conclusion of socioeconomic analysis or class rivalry or even warm-hearted, generic affection: it is the Son’s own methodology in his assumption of human nature. The world disease Christ was born to soak up and eradicate is the daily existence of the marginalized and destitute, and with them Christ has genuinely identified, not in any nebulous, non-committal way, but in the very specific, particular history of Jesus of Nazareth. In this One God has come and pitched his tent and published His decree to end all oppression, to right every wrong, to make every sad thing come untrue. In the baby born in the stinking stall, ignored by the corridors of power and luxury, the Creator bends to rescue His creation, assuming for himself all that is part of what we are to heal and renew. Chains creak in terror, “for the slave is our brother.” This is the theology of the cross, keyed from the very beginning of the Savior’s life to solidarity with ignominy and suffering, “pleased as man with men to dwell.” This is the hermeneutical key to knowing the true God, the God who makes Himself nothing by coming to serve His people: the peasant babe who is “God with us”- rejoice, brothers and sisters! To us a son is given- one son out of many- and he will save his people! Reflect on Gustavo Gutierrez’s plea to identify with this One who was unashamed to bear our shame and walk with us and lift your hearts to Christ, “born this happy morning.” This passage seems particularly relevant for us given the current political/”intellectual” climate:


The Gospel of St. Luke tells us that “in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (2:1-2). The Gospel of Matthew adds that Jesus was born “in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod” (2:1).

These simple texts convey a profound message: Jesus was born in a particular place at a particular time. He was born under Emperor Octavius, who had himself named Augustus when he reached the pinnacle of power; when Quirinius was governor of Syria; during the reign of Herod, who was traitor to his people and had sold out to the occupying power. It was during this time that Jesus was born, a man of no importance in the eyes of the cynical and arrogant authorities as well as in the eyes of those who disguised cowardice as peace and political realism.

He was born in Bethlehem, “one of the little clans of Judah” (Mic. 5:1 NRSV), surrounded by shepherds and their flocks. His parents had come to a stable after vainly knocking at numerous doors in the town, as the Gospels tell us; we are reminded of the popular Mexican custom of las posadas. There, on the fringe of society, [as Manuel Dias Mateos puts it], “the Word became history, contingency, solidarity, and weakness; but we can say, too, that by this becoming, history itself, our history, became Word.”

It is often said at Christmastime that Jesus is born into every family and every heart. But these “births” must not make us forget the primordial, massive fact that Jesus was born of Mary among a people that at the time were dominated by the greatest empire of the age. If we forget that fact, the birth of Jesus becomes an abstraction, a symbol, a cipher. Apart from its historical coordinates the event loses its meaning. To the eyes of Christians the incarnation is the irruption of God into human history: an incarnation of littleness and service in the midst of the power and arrogance of the mighty of this world; an irruption that smells of the stable.

Christian faith is a historical faith. God is revealed in Jesus Christ and, through him, in human history, and, within it, in the least important and poorest sector. Only with this as a starting point is it possible to believe in God. Believers cannot go aside into a kind of dead-end corner of history and watch it go by. It is in the concrete setting and circumstances of our lives that we must learn to believe: under oppression and repression but also amid the struggles and hopes that are alive in present-day Latin America; under the dictatorships that sow death among the poor, and under the “democracies” that often trade on their needs and dreams.

The Lord is not intimidated by the darkness or by the rejection of His own. His light is stronger than all the shadows. Entering into our own history- here and now- and nourishing our hope with the desire for life that belongs to the poor of our continent are the unavoidable conditions for dwelling in the tent the Son has pitched in our midst. If we do so, we shall experience in our flesh the encounter with the Word who proclaims the kingdom of life.
(from “The God Who Comes,” in Gustavo Gutierrez: Essential Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), pp. 139-140)

 

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