The upper class in Palestine has a negative position within the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. Look at how the Roman Governor, King Herod, and his court, as well as the religious officials under his control, are deliberately ousted from the action.
(Matthew 2.esp.1-12.) It is the ‘foreign diplomatic agents’ (wise men) who first provide the intelligence to them about what was happening in their own territory! The plot thickens when the diplomats ‘double-cross’ Herod’s court and escape its jurisdiction, leaving the land secretly. Clearly, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a contradictory omen for the Roman Empire’s colonial relations in Palestine. The two stories in the gospels of Matthew and of Luke declare to us plainly that what God organized in the birth of Jesus was not a high society occasion for a ‘church and state’ fete in an empire setting.
AN UNDERCLASS GOSSIP
If we follow the itinerary of the angel news reporters and the persons whom they contacted, they seemed to move among the underclass in Galilee and Judea. They visited Mary, then Joseph, a working class couple in Galilee, who were making the journey of love, courtship and belonging to each other. They visited Zechariah in Judea, a priest of mature age with a comfortable living, who had a long-standing marriage with Elizabeth and was burdened because they had no child. Most dramatically, the news mesangers visited a homeless, propertyless, labouring gang of shepherds, living with the animals in the hillsides day and night. They were among the Empire’s scrunting agricultural slaves. The message delivered to them was a package of coming bliss, fullness of life and overall salvation through a baby resting in a feed box in Bethlehem. It is this group of exploited and powerless people that was invited to the festival and they spread the word in their class circle. Some days later, when the parents of Jesus present the child at the temple registry in the city, Jerusalem, it is not the priests nor the teachers who notice the recently born Jesus; it is faithful persons at the sidelines of the rituals. Simeon, an old Adventist, jumps for joy and declares: ‘I could dead now because I done see God’s Saviour’. Also at that ceremony of presentation, Anna, a woman prophet, praised God for Jesus and called people’s attention to the child. This subversive gossiping in the underclass world would later become a gospel message for all. From the start though, in the angel visits, and in the infant days of Jesus Christ, it is the lowly and the burdened who have a dear and chosen place of honour. It is clear that there is a parable shining through these gospel accounts of the first Christmas. It is the election of ‘the Underclass as the Host of our Saviour’. ‘Blessed are the poor’.
THE UNDERCLASS TODAY, AND CHRISTMAS
While the birth stories in the gospels ‘Big Up’ and exalt the humble ones as the carriers of salvation news, putting down the arrogant and mighty, in today’s message of liberation and fulfilment, it is generally the comfortable and the high and mighty who feed the underclass with opiates and handouts, or cutbacks and discrimination. The Saviour and Liberator dwells in the heart of the Herod apparatus, taxing the truth and reinforcing a hostile rule with Herod intact. At the same time, the message about Jesus Christ is hosted by news carriers who submit themselves to the Herods that be, ignorant and unheeding of the Parable of the Underclass Saviour. Christmas today is a ceremony, a fete put on by Herod’s court, full of jollity and evasions that hide the constant ‘massacre of infants/innocents’.
As we face a new year, 2016, following another Happy Christmas and a divisive elections, and a hurricane-free season, new tasks are on the agenda. An underclass consciousness is crying out for us to acknowledge its place of leadership in our mentalities. The winner/loser mentality that we cultivate and cherish leaves Herod smiling. If a saviour from on high can elect an underclass identity to accomplish his grace work, that is an intimation to us. We can go places when we start there in our self-definition.