Today, we celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. We do not know the exact date on which he was born. We do know from Scripture that he was born in tax season — might that have been around Passover then as well as now? It might have been in the summer or the fall — it does not matter, really, for the date of his birth is much less relevant than the fact of his birth.
He was born of poor parents, parents who journeyed far from their home to pay taxes to their oppressors. They were subjugated people under the rule of Rome, whose regime was not respectful of the captured population’s faith or traditions. In these times and in this culture, it is believed that 98 percent of the people lived in poverty, so Joseph and Mary were not unique in this.
It should not be a surprise that there was no room at any of the inns in Bethlehem, as many had to travel to pay taxes, but with the tradition of hospitality within the Judaic culture, a welcome and someplace to sleep were essential. The innkeeper offered the only shelter he could — his stable. It was not uncommon for animals to sleep with a family, so this is not as terrible as it might sound. Fresh hay covered with robes provides as comfortable a bed as many might normally have.
On that night, in the light of the bright stars seen through a less-than-solid roof, a child named Jesus was born. He was a child of great potential, as all children are. All great prophets and leaders and saviors are born of a mother.
It says in the Scriptures that the heavens were filled with angels who sang with great joy at the birth of this particular son. This was a special child, or so the angels sang to the shepherds with their flocks.
And the star of that evening eventually led three magi to the stable, where gifts were given.
I do not know whether this is factual, but I know that it is true. That a child of great promise was born to a man and a woman, that the child grew up a faithful and knowledgeable Jew, that he asked questions, that he sought answers, that he taught a way of life that would lead to greater justice and love. And that this great man died for what he believed.
But today, we need to focus on the beginning — the beginning of life, the miracle of life. To me, the lesson learned from this story is that none of us needs be limited by the circumstances of our birth; that we can be the best we can possibly be. We each come to this world with a variety of gifts. Jesus’ gift was to teach us to love one another, to accept the stranger, to turn our cheek to another’s anger, to love God, to strive for justice and to work for peace for all humanity.
In the quiet moments of this day, might you consider what gifts you have to share with the world — not materially but spiritually, morally, ethically? These are the greatest gifts. May love, justice, equality and peace be those gifts you give each other on this special day.
The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.