For those seeking a different take on the Christmas story than the central theme of God becoming man to save us from sin, have a look at the supporting cast surrounding Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
Indeed, most people would probably find themselves echoed not in the Holy Family, but in the shepherds, the inkeeper, or the three wise men. Or, God forbid, King Herod and his soldiers or the innocent children they slaughtered in search of Israel’s future king.
So who are you in the Christmas story?
Are you the inkeeper who could not spare a room for the pregnant Mary, her husband Joseph, and, unknown to him, the Redeemer of humankind?
Or the shepherds who followed the lead of an angel and found the Holy Child among farm animals in a manger?
Or perhaps one of the Magi or wise men who read the sky by their ancient knowledge and followed a star with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?
Or are you like Herod, the King of Israel, who sent soldiers to look for the king-to-be and, as Scripture foretold and recounted, slaughtered babies two years and younger.
Ancient Israel thrives in our time
While the Philippines in 2014 is a continent and two millennia away from Israel in the first century, in fact the Nativity accounts capture many aspects of our modern world and society essentially unchanged since time immemorial.
As they do today, potentates and plebes populated the land, and on Christmas day, the latter were trooping to their places of birth under a census edict from the most potent of potentates then, Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar. Lesser chiefs and armed legions enforced imperial commands, while commerce flourished in the Pax Romana.
In this world of the powerful, the prosperous, the powerless and penniless, God’s Son was born, beginning 33 years of sharing our humanity and human condition, and showing us how to live a human life as perfectly as God would, and eventually making the ultimate sacrifice of laying down one’s life for one’s friends and even enemies, which God did only after taking mortal flesh.
But our interest today is not on Jesus Christ, already over-homilied even before His birthday. Rather, we ponder and even amuse ourselves at the people around the Holy Family, asking if any of them show facets of you and me.
Most people are probably like the innkeeper: just trying to make a buck, doing his best to manage limited resources, maybe helping out the odd soul or two, but knowing that one cannot save the whole world. So when Joseph knocked on the door for a room, the owner did not oblige.
Certainly, he could have helped find other accommodations, maybe through friends at other lodgings. But with an innful of travelers to attend to, he just sent the couple away, along with their unborn child. We probably would have done the same. For the innkeeper and many of us like him, there’s only so much one can do.
The shepherds can do even less. Yet like so many people of manual toil and humble state, they listen to the promptings of faith perhaps more than those of greater means and learning. Thus, told of the birth of a child of great import, they went to offer the greatest treasure any person can give: homage and worship.
Ordinary Filipinos in the millions listen to the Lord’s voice from churchmen and in their hearts. They eagerly await His Vicar Francis, and heed other holy men and women, with three-fourths trusting religious figures. Even as they constantly struggle to make ends meet, the shepherds know when to set aside everything for what truly matters.
The old and the ruthless
Less common than the inkeeper and the shepherd archetypes are the Magi and King Herod. Their currency are knowledge and power, respectively.
The wise men from the East, the subject of a well-researched, wittily written piece in The Economist Christmas double issue, have their modern counterparts in scholars, advisers, intellectuals, writers, and other manner of diligently studied folk.
What matters most to the wise and learned is being right and knowing more than others. For this distinction of mind, they would spend decades in academe, studying, doing research, devising and testing theories. Others search for truth in the detailed, thorough reporting of events and developments, for media or institutions.
The Magi’s musings did not include discussions with angels, at least before they found the Holy Child, for the learned put greater store in human investigation than divine inspiration. Still, they too found their way to the Christ Child by their astrological lights, and after seeing Him, they became open to the angelic message to avoid Herod on the journey home.
Which brings us to the villain in our Christmas supporting cast: the power-grabbing King Herod. It’s not hard to find many Herodians among our pork-barreled political elite enamored of guns, goons and gold.
Corruption, violence, oppression, war — name any enormity in today’s society, and chances are, there’s a Herod seeking dominance in the middle of it. Including those who claim to serve God, but violate His message of peace and harmony purportedly to spread faith. In fact, it’s all about power.
Herod did not trust God; otherwise, he would have left the future in His hands, instead of trying to swing it his way by force of arms. But human power never wins: the mightier Romans eventually destroyed not just his kingdom, but Jerusalem itself.
Moneywise inkeepers. Faithful shepherds. Learned Magi. Power-mad Herod. Who are you this Christmas?