And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke2:7
2010 years ago this winter a teenage mother, watched over by her middle-aged husband and warmed by the breath of the cattle of the fields, gave the world Christianity.
To a world where slavery, poverty, suffering and ignorance were the norm, a small, a very small, glimpse of light..a glimmer of hope, pulsated in the heart of humanity.
Rumors concerning this particular child had been circulating long before the humble birth. Men long distances away from that miserable little barn, who had spent their lives studying the prophesies of the world’s great religions of the day and the configurations of the heavenly bodies they believed to be set in motion by “the creator of all”, were convinced that something momentous had happened and set out to observe and record the event. Heads of state surreptitiously made their way to the grass-filled manger and knelt by the tiny child.
It is said that a sword pierced the young mother’s heart upon his birth as the knowledge of his true life and purpose had been revealed to her.
Christianity, cursed by the viciousness, greed and intolerance within the human family and blessed by the undying belief in the possibility of goodness, changed the world.
The new religion, made only stronger by the persecutions of those whose interests were immeasurably threatened by its existence, spread west and north across Europe and east into Central Asia, constantly changing yet ever the same. Great battles were fought..many suffered and died..over seemingly small and insignificant theological points that we now accept without question.
Although not a military one, the first and most significant battle within the church, well chronicled in the New Testament, is Paul’s assertion that salvation was for ALL people. The failure of Paul to win his case would have strangled the new religion and delegated it to just another sect, among many sects, within the Jewish community.
Western Medieval Europe, ravaged by war and famine,settled into a few tenuously organized and fragilely constructed governmental bodies that found they had far less need for expensively maintained standing armies that had been in place for generations. Not to mention the depredations and pillaging committed by a bored and rapacious population of young men with very narrow skills. Thus was born the Crusades. They served two purposes. The troublesome armies were let loose in other neighborhoods and much wealth and loot was brought home.
And so, through the years, man’s interpretation of Christianity has swayed and morphed between sanctity and savagery. The world was flat. The world revolved around the sun. Fire at the stake purged unbelievers. Women were ordained by law to “suffer” child birth and die if necessary without interference from the ungodly measures of science. Disabilities were the result of sin. Poverty was an affliction placed there by a loving God and not to be tampered with. Were the poor not well beloved by the Lord and therefore more blessed than the pitiful wealthy?
War is waged. Populations are ravaged and destroyed. Bodies desecrated, children exploited. In the name of Peace and Love.
Slavery and its degradations was embraced and upheld by the church for centuries. Birth control is still anathema within some Christian communities. Even here, in this multi-blessed country that we live in, a large segment of the Christian population truly and genuinely believes that the rewards of the world should only rightly be held by those of the same race or gender or sexual orientation or religion as themselves.
Yet that small light brought forth in those meager circumstances 2010 years ago, often dim, flickering frighteningly, smudged by the excrement of evil alive and well, still glows. It ebbs and flows, waxes and wanes. Its devotees struggle and stumble. Yet it glows.
Who has not stood alone in some dark hour and cried out. “I believe. Oh Lord help Thou my unbelief.” ?
And the breath from that crying out causes that feeble glimmer to leap into light again and we are sustained for another hour..another day.
Because of that child.. The Christ