In telling of Messiah's birth, the author of Luke made a point of locating it in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. That is, in the smaller, weaker and less significant locale.Yep.
Luke's even larger point, however, was how the news was told. Angels didn't go to the inn to tell cheerful revelers that they should be glad that something wonderful was happening out back. Angels didn't go to Jerusalem to tell the custodians of religion that their moment of victory had come.
Angels didn't go to the inhabitants of Britain or Gaul and tell them to prepare for faith-based mayhem. Or to the future suburbs of Virginia to cheer on the righteous and condemn everyone else to hell.
In Luke's narrative, angels went to the road running between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, to dark hillsides, to shepherds who resided in neither "city of David." They were the audience. Not rich suburbanites, not religious leaders, and not any of the arrogant and bullying who have turned Christianity into a mockery of what Jesus intended. Those who first heard were outsiders, toiling in darkness at work that no one else would do. Why would we think that God has suddenly changed direction and now wants the "good news of great joy" to be heard only by self-proclaimed champions of "orthodoxy" and "tradition"?
If Christianity is struggling in America, it isn't because our doctrine is flawed, or our ordination practices are too liberal. It is because, after all this time, we haven't developed a capacity for shame, humility or self-denial.
• Tom Ehrich is a writer, consultant and an Episcopal priest. He lives in Durham, N.C. His Web site is http://www.onajourney.org/.
Saturday, December 30, 2006