It was an evening like any other in Bethlehem. The desert was enveloped in a quiet darkness characteristic of any other night.
But this particular evening was colossally different. Yes, there was a uniquely bright star that had settled to the east, a celestial body that was likely a comet, but this was not the reason this evening was so special. Nor was it the unusual bustle gripping the city as it struggled to accommodate Caesar Augustus’s mandate that all citizens present themselves to their hometowns to be counted.
No. This evening was special because of a birth. On this particular night, a boy was born to a couple married under suspicious circumstances, as the mother, who claimed to be a most blessed virgin, was pregnant and was so before being married.
But the boy to be born that night would grow to have a presence so monumental, so pervasive, and so immense that he could only be divine. This little, vulnerable boy would deliver a heretical message. For those who believed, he was the messiah. For those who didn’t, his presence was an existential threat to the very existence of the Jewish religion.
This boy’s message was peace and hope. He was the innocent lamb to be killed for the sins of man, and his life the quintessential example of the path to salvation.
And he would bring with him a new edict, one that would permanently transform relations between men. It was a simple command, but so difficult to execute: You shall love God with all your soul and all your might, and your neighbor as you love yourself.
It was the latter provision that was so incredibly cutting edge, and religious authorities shuddered in disbelief upon learning of it.
“You mean to tell me that a man I have never met, a prostitute, a tax collector, a cheater, a murderer, or a thief deserves the same respect, affection, and love as my very own children? And you really expect me to offer my other cheek when that person who has become my enemy strikes me in hatred?”
Although Jesus was no politician — he spoke only to the individual — his message would transform governments. Because of him, some dared believe that every person has a direct relationship with God. Because of him, some dared believe that God loved the lowliest as much as the privileged. Because of him, some dared believe that government ought to be subject to the consent of the governed rather than the other way around. And because of this edict, great nations arose, or at least nations with the potential to achieve greatness.
But of course, evil would not recede in the presence of this infinitely beautiful man with his untiringly wonderful message. No. Instead, its instruments worked even harder to suppress the Word and destroy the message, first by having Jesus put to death by crucifixion and then by arguing that his message went against the will of God.
And when men and their governments drifted away from his edict, sometimes so perversely that they would invoke his name in so doing, the seeds of evil germinated, and death, injustice, and suffering spread. But when men complied with his message, justice would prevail, and love and charity would reign.
Evil’s response became even more tenacious, blaming the deaths and injustices on Jesus himself.
But every year, at about this time, we are once again given the opportunity to reflect upon the events of that otherwise inconspicuous night with the birth of a little boy, in a small little town, in the middle of the desert, who would later reveal the secrets to eternal peace, happiness, and joy.
Merry Christmas, and May God bless us all.
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.