The Christmas tree stands quietly in the corner, its little lights pushing back the darkness, a silent memorial to a not-quite-silent night. The father was afraid, the mother in great pain, and the baby probably howled as babies do. They made sounds of distress and confusion, though we sing of comfort and joy.
This is the shock of Christmas, which remains a comfort and a scandal 2,000 years later.
It is shocking because, according to the story, this baby had a choice – to lay himself in Joseph’s hard hands, to plant himself the smallest seed in Mary’s womb, to burst frail and naked into a cold dark world.
Might God come gently? Allow himself to be overlooked and rejected because he so loves the world? Many hope not, for a loving God is still God, and no God is wanted here. They are done with Jesus as almighty Rome was done with Jesus. But Rome is long gone, and Jesus remains.
The light of Christmas is still pushing back the darkness, even here in America, where darkness grows. Even to us, a child is born, and to us, a son is given, calling across the ages that God is with us in our distress and confusion, that he came gently to offer us comfort and joy.
Perhaps we will welcome the Christ-child this year, amazed by the love and humility of God. Perhaps we will turn away. But this much is certain. When America has returned to dust as Rome returned to dust, Jesus will remain.