Nativity with a Capital N

For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth,
And deep darkness the people;
But the Lord will arise over you,
And His glory will be seen upon you.
The Gentiles shall come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah 60:2-3

About a year ago, I was having my hair done, watching the young people bustle around the salon. One guy was wearing a tee shirt with an image printed on the back. The image was a face, and it had a spiritual dimension to it. Probably it was the visage of an ancient goddess or something like that. I’ve seen such images on clothing and décor and trinkets for years—all the way back to the 1970s, when I was a kid myself shopping in boutiques not a stone’s throw from my hair salon.

On the particular afternoon I’m telling you about, that image struck me in a way similar images never had before. I don’t know whether that shirt had meaning for the young man wearing it or if he just thought it looked cool, but it had meaning for me. On that day, it reminded me that the spiritual forces of this world—the gods of the earth—would like nothing better than to return to a time when they reigned unopposed.

You and I live in times and, most likely, places where most people share values that align with those set forth in the Bible’s Old and New Testaments. We may not actually conduct ourselves according to these values, but at least we generally agree that showing kindness and generosity and putting other people ahead of ourselves are good things to do.

Imagine a world in which these values do not exist at all. You might imagine an ancient world like the one in “Game of Thrones,” in which competing dragons and humans conspire, and the wiliest and most ruthless among them dominate everyone else. If you are atheistic, as Ayn Rand was, you might embrace a world in which the only thing that matters is getting what you want. Why wouldn’t you, if you don’t acknowledge any power higher than your own reason or any pursuit higher than your own happiness?

This was the world from which Abraham was called, and it was the entire earth outside Israel from Abraham until John the Baptist. It was a world of deep darkness in which no values existed beyond the whims of whoever was in charge. If you don’t believe it was dark, just try living under the control of someone who is entirely self-serving. Someone whose only interest in you—in your very life—is the extent to which you benefit them.

I’m lucky to have been born when and where I was. I didn’t ask for a 20th century nativity in America. In fact, I didn’t ask to be born at all, and neither did you. There is only one individual who asked for the whole enchilada of a human nativity—not in a mid-century American community like mine—but under the iron and clay feet of the Romans. His birth was announced by angels and acknowledged by a handful of people. First, the fetus who would be known as John the Baptist, leaping in his mother’s womb in the presence of the unborn Christ. There were others too. Among them, some shepherds outside Bethlehem, a devout old man named Simeon, an ancient prophetess named Anna, and a few magi from a faraway country.

Most of us like to think our nativity benefits others. We have an innate desire to leave our small part of the world better than we found it. But no matter how lofty or lowly our nativities and the lives that ensue, they do not compare to Jesus’s. Daniel said it all when he interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about a statue that represented the kingdoms of the earth throughout history, a statue that was brought down by one small stone cut by the hand of God himself. All of those kingdoms crumbled and became like husks on a threshing floor on a summer afternoon. The wind carried them away, and not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the statue became a large mountain that filled the whole earth.

For all I know, the visage I saw on a stylist’s tee shirt in Uptown Dallas belonged to a goddess who once ruled nations. If it did, her kingdom has crumbled, never to rise again.

She’s probably mad about that.

For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Isaiah 9:6-7

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