The twelve days of Christmas, perhaps more popularized by the seasonal carol than the liturgical season, hold within them a certain kind of magic. This short season is marked by the birth narrative of Jesus Christ, including the events leading up to his birth, and beckons us to enter into the story with a kind of awe and wonder. Awe and wonder are certainly appropriate postures when reflecting on the birth of Jesus. However, if this season of Christmas gets relegated to the domain of metaphors and magic, our understanding of the birth of Christ is sorely incomplete.
The Gospel of Luke is nothing if it is not a Gospel that is rooted within a particular time and place in history. Luke 2 gives us this kind of rootedness when the census is referenced. Emperor Augustus provides a pin for the particular time in history and the city of Bethlehem is referenced next, placing this text in a particular place. The birth of Jesus Christ, God’s love incarnate, was sent to a particular place at a particular time and is about so much more than a mere analogy - it is a matter of history.
It is noteworthy, that place and time matter deeply to the narrative. We cannot strip Jesus away from these details. The reality of this census reminds the reader that Jesus entered into a bleak time in history - a time when God’s people were longing in a profound way for a rescuer, a savior. A time marked by political and religious oppression, injustice and profound inequalities. The town of Bethlehem, a town not exactly known for its powerful legacy, cues the reader in to the humble nature of Jesus’s arrival. The love of God incarnate came into that time, and that place, to show all of humanity what God looks like with skin on.
There is a sense in which wonder and awe is the natural response to this season. You might say that this was the response of all who encountered the Christ child. It is appropriate for us to contemplate deeply on the idea of Jesus Christ entering into the world - to roll the meaning around in our minds and to be moved by this profound story. However, let us never forget that Jesus Christ was a human being that walked on this earth, breathed its air, and was sustained by its fruit. That within the mystery of a God who came to earth as a tiny baby, there is truth and a concrete reality. God’s love for all of humanity is made known in the sending of his son. His son that was sent into a particular time and to a particular place. His Son that loves us more than any analogy, metaphor or idea could ever contain.