Easily obscured by the contemporary, somewhat artificial, expressions of a cultural Christmas is the reality that the original Bethlehem story occurred against a backdrop of pain and dislocation for its primary characters.
While we celebrate with great festivity the generous portion of blessing and “good times” that our Christmas acknowledges or at least prompts, we can easily forget that there was precious little of that for the unexpected, impromptu father-to-be, Joseph.
His impoverished, teenage bride-to-be and her hard-to-believe, politically incorrect, conception narrative did not “marry” well with the politically repressive reality that a powerful, “foreign” government had overtaken his homeland and demanded exorbitant and inconvenient taxation with its difficult registration journey.
Who knows what Joseph’s Nazareth to Bethlehem travel may have cost him in lost wages alone?
How can we calculate the cultural inconvenience of taking a surprisingly pregnant young girl on such a bumpy and risky journey?
And why not leave little Mary at home, in deference to her condition?
Given the abruptness of the pregnancy announcement and the incredulity of the mystical explanation, was there no family support for the two back home? Were the community tongues wagging?
And so, against what most would have deemed the conventional wisdom of sound advice, Joseph set out on the journey, carrying the pregnant Mary with him.
In light of the scant medical knowledge of the day, Mary’s actual “due date” may have been unknown.
But, against the harsh realities of no local, Bethlehem familial support and the overcrowded accommodations of the forced taxation, Joe was forced to provide only a crude, smelly, animal stall for the delivery room of the child whom he would choose to call his own.
But, the reality is that Christmas comes at an inconvenient time for all of us – especially for immigrants.
During our days of face-to-face ministry among Albanian immigrants in Athens, Greece, my wife, Janice, and I were always amazed at the extent to which they readily identify with the angst of the first Christmas narrative.
Despite the reality that their Communist government had banned all religion for many years and against the harsh truth that they are a much discriminated against minority in a religiously saturated environment, Albanian people in Greece come unobstructed to a recognition of the difficulties against which the baby Jesus was born.
At Christmas, their readiness to entertain the possibilities of incarnation seems always to be enhanced. Indeed, they can relate and they want to believe.
These experiences further demonstrated to us and our co-workers at PORTA that Albanians and all immigrants deserve to celebrate the birth of the Bethlehem babe.
We are convinced that the story has unique and special significance for all immigrants and that they, as much as any other group, have the right to sing, “Hosanna.”
Bob Newell, a former ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Athens, Greece, now resides in Texas, where he continues his work with PORTA – the Albania House in Athens. He blogs at ItsGreek2U. A version of this article first appeared in the December 2016 edition of The Newell Post, Bob and Janice Newell’s monthly electronic newsletter. It is used with permission.