A Bi-Polar Holiday, part two
The story of two people about to have a child traveling is not that unusual. Thousands are doing just that south of the US border along Texas west to Arizona and California at this very minute, having left their homeland because of political unrest, threats of death, or lack of living conditions that make living sustainable. Hopefully most are not about to give birth but some might be.
Many would argue that what makes the Nativity Story important is that the child was the Son of God. However, that very child grew up to become a man who made it his life’s work to preach that we all are sons and daughters of God. He lived showing love to all, especially those disenfranchised by society. You could honestly say that most if not all of his actions were everyday miracles.
Those of the Christian faith put great stock in the Nativity Story, the story of Mary and Joseph who traveled a great distance, not in the easiest of circumstances, to be registered on the census rolls. Without doing so, they would be without verification, a couple without a country so to speak. There is some discrepancy within the Bible about this story, I should note.
The Gospel According to St Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph travelled from Galilee to Bethlehem because of a Roman census during the time Quirinius was governor of Syria. This census took place in the year 6 ACE, and the Jewish historian, Josephus, tells us that this was the first such census that affected the Jews. A paradox in this passage comes from the fact that we also know that King Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, some 10 years before the census. Moreover, it is highly improbably that such a census would include Judea, since Herod was empowered to raise his own taxes and was not required to report on the population or wealth of his dominion.
The Gospel According to St Matthew provides a different telling of this story and it suggests that Mary and Joseph did not travel from Galilee at all. Bethlehem was their home town, and the wise men found Jesus in a house, not a manger. The family fled to Egypt to avoid the Slaughter of the Innocents and returned to Judea after the death of Herod. But when Joseph heard that Herod’s son, Archelaus, had succeeded to the throne, he turned aside and went to Galilee and dwelt in a city called Nazareth, thus fulfilling the prophecy that Jesus would be called a Nazarene.
Like many myths, there is some truth, some storytelling embellishment, and some history in the Nativity Story. At this time of the year when rather than experience joy, many feel depression, it is of great use to explore the reality of the time period. In 2011 Justin Taylor wrote a very interesting article regarding the political scene of Galilee and Judea at the time of the birth of the baby Jesus. He quotes historian R. T. France in his article.
“The northern province of Galilee was decisively distinct—in history, political status, and culture—from the southern province of Judea which contained the holy city of Jerusalem. Racially the area of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel had had, ever since the Assyrian conquest in the eighth century B.C., a more mixed population, within which more conservative Jewish areas (like Nazareth and Capernaum) stood in close proximity to largely pagan cities, of which in the first century the new Hellenistic centers of Tiberias and Sepphoris were the chief examples. Geographically Galilee was separated from Judea by the non-Jewish territory of Samaria, and from Perea in the southeast by the Hellenistic settlements of Decapolis.
“Politically Galilee had been under separate administration from Judea during almost all its history since the tenth century B.C. (apart from a period of “reunification” under the Maccabees), and in the time of Jesus it was under a (supposedly) native Herodian prince, while Judea and Samaria had since A.D. 6 been under the direct rule of a Roman prefect. Economically Galilee offered better agricultural and fishing resources than the more mountainous territory of Judea, making the wealth of some Galileans the envy of their southern neighbors.
“Culturally Judeans despised their northern neighbors as country cousins, their lack of Jewish sophistication being compounded by their greater openness to Hellenistic influence. Linguistically Galileans spoke a distinctive form of Aramaic whose slovenly consonants (they dropped their aitches!) were the butt of Judean humor. Religiously the Judean opinion was that Galileans were lax in their observance of proper ritual, and the problem was exacerbated by the distance of Galilee from the temple and the theological leadership, which was focused in Jerusalem.”
Today many people are discriminated against because of their religion. This was also true of the man we call Jesus. According to R. T. France, “even an impeccably Jewish Galilean in first-century Jerusalem was not among his own people; he was as much a foreigner as an Irishman in London or a Texan in New York. His accent would immediately mark him out as “not one of us,” and all the communal prejudice of the supposedly superior culture of the capital city would stand against his claim to be heard even as a prophet, let alone as the “Messiah,” a title which, as everyone knew, belonged to Judea (cf. John 7:40-42). The man for whom we celebrate his birth was very much a stranger among even his own people and at this time of the year, many feel exactly the same way.
Mathematician Blaise Pascal believed “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every person, and it cannot be filled by any created thing.” He believed that by surrendering ourselves we would gain everything. Pascal saw the gridlock of ego as the world’s biggest problem. It would be an everyday miracle and the solution to this holiday that seems to celebrate and yet cause depression if we would liberate ourselves from the gridlock of our own ego.