23 January 2007

Speaking Ethically No. 8

By Rod Benson

December 2006

For many Australians, Christmas is that peak commercial period between Halloween and Valentine’s Day. It’s a time to give free rein to festivity and frivolity and greed.

We yearn for fake snow, pine and deer in our homes and shopping centres – while singing platitudes about jingle bells and Jesus. No wonder it’s “the silly season.” But life was utterly different for those who shaped the original Christmas story.

In Exiles, alluding to Richard Adams’ classic tale Watership Down, Michael Frost reminds us that

Christian experience is not primarily formed by our liturgy, doctrine, or ecclesiology … [but] by the dangerous stories of our great hero … radical stories of Jesus, the prince with a thousand enemies.

The most dangerous story of all is the story of Christmas. At his birth, Jesus was as vulnerable, dependent and small as you and I were at birth. Socially he was marginalised by his birth to a poor tradesman and his teenage fiancĂ©. Culturally the family was excluded by their Nazarene roots and their looks – no room at the inn for such as these.

Later they were politically exiled out of fear of Herod’s sword. And for three decades they were
virtually forgotten, until Jesus stood to speak in the synagogue at Nazareth, and swiftly assumed the mantle of the exile. But that’s another story.

The experience of marginalisation, exclusion and exile, reflected in the faces of the young Mary and Joseph, and in the cries of the infant Jesus, is worth some reflection.

To what extent, and to what purpose, do we shield ourselves from the experience of exile? What do we lose by convincing ourselves of respectability, surrounding ourselves with things, and amusing ourselves to death?

To what extent do we, followers of this extraordinary exile, allow the soft clay of our lives to be touched and shaped by the values and practices that shaped him? Food for thought this silly season.

Rev Rod Benson is Director of the Centre for Christian Ethics at Morling College, Sydney.

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