EMPIRE OPPRESSION & CHRISTMAS LIBERATION
To begin to understand the joy of shepherds (Luke 2) we must begin to grapple with impact of the tyranny of imperial Rome on the households and lives of folks living in such far-flung provinces as Galilee. Reading this may disrupt one's serene American sense of Christmas tradition, but it may also recover something of its original intent...and rescue it from the dregs of unreality. Dorothy Soelle (quoted from an article republished Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent & Lent) writes:
THE REAL CONTEXT OF THE NATIVITY. "Political oppression, legal degradation, economic plunder, and religious neutrality in the scope of the religio lictia ('permitted religion') were realities that the writer Luke kept in view in his story, which is so sublime and yet so focused on the center of all conceivable power. At last I saw the imperium from the perspective of those dominated by it. I recognized torturers and informers behind the coercive measure, 'All went…to be registered' (v. 3). Finally I comprehended the peace of the angels 'on earth' and not only in the souls of individual people. I understood for the first time the propaganda terms of the Roman writers who spoke of pax and jus when they really meant grain prices and militarization of the earth known at that time. (All this can be confirmed by research today.)"
Contextualization, rooting the story of the Gospel in its realtime milieu, brings the power of its light into focus. More from Soelle's essay:
FREE PEOPLE'S STIFLED LONGING. "Whoever wants to proclaim something about this light has to free the stifled longing of people. An interpretation of the Bible that takes seriously concrete, everyday human cares and does not make light of the dying of children from hunger and neglect is helpful in this regard. By showing up the incomparable power of violence in our world today, it deepens our yearning for true peace."
ORGANIZING AROUND THE GOOD NEWS. "Our text refers to the praxis of transmission and proclamation. The frightened shepherds become God’s messengers. They organize, make haste, find others, and speak with them. Do we not all want to become shepherds and catch sight of the angel? I think so."
PERSPECTIVE OF THE POOR. "Without the perspective of the poor, we see nothing, not even an angel. When we approach the poor, our values and goals change. The child appears in many other children. Mary also seeks sanctuary among us. Because the angels sing, the shepherds rise, leave their fears behind, and set out for Bethlehem, wherever it is situated these days."
Kinda changes the context of "Merry Christmas," doesn't it?