Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A subversive Christmas story

Along the lines of a non-"corny" Christmas (see previous post), I offer this reflection written by my friend Tony Robinson. If you don't know Tony and his work, you should (links are below). Here is his post for Christmas Eve:

A Subversive Story

Luke 2: 1 - 14

"In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered . . . All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem . . . ."

Reflection by Anthony B. Robinson

We've finally arrived. In Bethlehem, at the manger. As Martin Copenhaver noted in the Introduction to this Advent booklet, it's the same story every year, the familiar story, nothing different.

There is comfort in that. Whether you gather in church this evening, or at home with family or friends, I hope you hear or read aloud this old, old story. “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus . . . .”

But don't let familiarity and its comforts deafen you to the subtle subversion this story would work in us and our world.

It begins with the acknowledgement of the great power of emperor and empire. Power to direct "the whole world" to be registered. Imagine that. Some power.

But when the camera focuses in, we see two people and a donkey. Joseph and his wife, Mary. In accordance with the Emperor's edict, they travel from Nazareth where they live and work, to Bethlehem, Joseph's ancestral home, where they are to register.

But what the Emperor doesn't know is that there is another power at work. Moreover, even he, the great Caesar Augustus, is serving, however unwittingly, this other power and purpose. God's hidden purpose is coming to pass. Ancient promises, made centuries before the current empire, are being brought to fulfillment, as Caesar's census brings David and Mary right where they are supposed to be.

So this familiar, comfortable and even beautiful story is something else. It is a subversive story. It tells us that the world's powers and empires are neither ultimate nor absolute. There is another power, God's power. There is another plan, God's plan, working its way to fulfillment in hidden and unexpected ways.

This familiar story makes a bold claim. Neither Caesar nor any other earthly powers are God. They are not final or ultimate. God alone is God. And this God rules and reigns in the oddest and most unexpected of ways. God reigns through a newborn baby who is born outside because there’s no room for him on the inside.

It's the same old story, shocking and new.


Thank you, Lord, for this beautiful and familiar story. Grant us ears to hear its deep meanings and claims, its great unexpected subversive humor, and its wild hope, because, as you know, we really need it. Amen.

About the Author
Anthony B. Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher and writer. His newest book is Stewardship for Vital Congregations, published by The Pilgrim Press. Read his weekly reflections on the current lectionary texts at by clicking on Weekly Reading.