“the pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology are veiled in the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence, outshining all brilliance with the intensity of their Darkness, and surcharging our blinded intellect with the utterly impalpable and invisible fairness of glories surpassing all beauty.” – Dionysius thr Aereopagite (Peterson, 2004, Chapter 1)
The days between Christmas and the beginning of the New Year see life returning to normal after a brief glimpse into “the cloud of unknowing” (Progoff, 1989) or “the cloud of the impossible” (Keller, 2015). Christmas and its marvelous symbolic story of a baby in a manger, tells us more than all the theologies of the world. “The pure, absolute and immutable mysteries of theology” want our minds to read that scene as the birth of a baby King, the opening act of a divine kingship that will eventually over-power the kingdoms of this world and usher in an historic era ruled by the “King of kings, Lord of lords, Prince of peace.”
The Christmas story, however, actually tells a quite different story – especially when viewed under the shadow of the Cross.
The story is about a poor family, strangers in a strange place, not welcomed, shunted off to a barn for lodging and the birth of their baby. The special part of the story is that there seems to be a cosmic recognition that this birth is the beginning of a special story, affirmed by lower class day workers (shepherds). There is confusion about the significance of this event among the ruling elite and powerful – King Herod colludes to have the baby killed and the story silenced before it can begin; while foreigners (the Persian scientists) travel countless miles to celebrate with special gifts. A story is shouting to be heard above the muting din of the principalities and powers.
The significance of the story is that it foreshadows the Cross – the ultimate fate of any who try to voice a story different from that which preserves the status quo of the domination systems of the world. This Manger-to-Cross story subverts the power stories told by Rome and Temple. It subverts the story told by today’s domination systems – patriarchy, white supremacy, xenophobia, and so many more.
A cursory look at the Christian church in the United States today would likely conclude that “the dazzling obscurity of the secret Silence” regarding the original Christmas story has been maintained. A silence hidden in fancy church buildings; a story that is more often told using the pronouns “me” and “my.” This is a nation which so many people want to think of as “a Christian nation.” One might wonder, however, how much of American religion is based more on an understanding of the U.S.’s manifest destiny than on the desire to work toward the biblical vision of a commonwealth of peace and tender justice.
Howard Thurman said it best: “, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with the flock, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among people, to make music in the heart.”