Theirs is a story of utter powerlessness. A self-proclaimed emperor god, with a puppet regional governor, ordered an unprecedented census, for tax purposes. Joseph, a self-employed artisan, had no choice but to leave his home and business behind and travel practically the length of the country, through bandit territory and wilderness, along with his entire household through the mountains of Jerusalem to Bethlehem to be registered according to the new executive order.
Mary, his betrothed, had not even her own name to lay claim to; no dispensation for her precarious condition; she had less agency and authority than even Joseph. She was chattel, hauled along with him as her bladder ached and her belly rippled to the rhythm of her unborn son’s travelling song.
Powerless to choose the place, date, or time of her labour, Mary found herself displaced, vagrant, at the mercy of strangers and the forbearance – the fortunate, faithful, kindly forbearance – of her fiancé.
At the mercy of her own body, and the body to which she gave birth, Mary was the very epitome of powerlessness that night long ago in Bethlehem.
And yet. And yet …
That child, lying in a rented animal feeding trough, warmed by hay and close quarters; this infant, who does not yet have the power to lift his own head; this newborn child is already the most influential, the most transformative, the most profoundly powerful person ever to have lived.
Kings and emperors will quake with fear when they recognize him. They will try to control the outbreak of his power through force, employing death and oppression against him and his kind.
But this child, so vulnerable and helpless in his manger, cannot be defeated by death. He cannot be silenced by oppression. He will not be cowed by hatred, envy, or the raw abuses of powerful men.
From his position of utter powerlessness, this child organizes angels to sing, shepherds to bring the offerings of their flocks. He tugs on his mother’s heart, and she is powerless to resist him.
This child, whom prophets foretold, whom angels proclaim, who lies with a milk bubble at one corner of his mouth, constrained by the swaddling bands that cradle his newly born form; this infant embodies love in its purest, most divine form.
Love: the essence of God that will not be denied, nor overcome, nor defeated; the most powerful echo of the divine image that we can encounter.
As the child grows, this love will blossom into healing mercies, a passion for justice, the telling of truth, and the humanity of one who recognizes the image of God in prostitutes, tax collectors, and sinners.
At its pinnacle, this love will devour death, and give birth to a new and bewildering life.
From his position of utter powerlessness, this infant Jesus begins the work of love simply by becoming the beloved, adored by angels, shepherds, Joseph, and Mary, who pondered all these things in her heart, remembering the words of archangel: “With God, nothing will be impossible.”
Exhausted, empowered, she lifted the Son of God to her breast, knowing that life would never be the same again; that the love of God and its quiet revolution had set in chain a life that would know no bounds, and a love that would last forever.
Two thousand years later, and several thousand miles away, we come from different backgrounds and ponder different possibilities, but as we listen for the angels singing out the birth of Christ, we are reminded that with God nothing is impossible; and as we contemplate the vulnerability of a God who would be born homeless, human, humble, we remember the power of love to change the world.