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liberationThe Liberation of Christmas — The Infancy Narratives in Social Context, Richard A. Horsley, 1989

The Christmas story is full of myth, legend, folktale, and history. Too often preachers in their Christmas sermons are long on myth and short on history. Horsley is a corrective to this in Liberation. What is his position? Let’s just focus on the story of Mary. “Far from presenting Mary as a model of submissive feminine behavior, Luke presents her as specially commissioned as the principal agent of deliverance in the infancy narratives.” (p. 69) What deliverance? “The infancy narratives, like the exodus narratives, are concerned with the concrete liberation of a whole people.” (p. 147).  Christmas is about a social and political response to the oppression by the client kings like Herod, and the imperial Roman rule repression of the Jewish peasant classes in Palestine. “Thus Joseph and Mary represent thousands of rootless people in ancient Jewish Palestine cut loose from their ancestral lands and villages by the Roman conquest or by indebtedness resulting from the intensive economic exploitation by Herod that compounded the demands for Temple dues and Roman tribute.” (p. 72) The deliverance is for ordinary people of the Jewish community, and especially cited in the Magnificat, where Mary in her “low estate” or humility (Luke 1:48 ) is thus a representative of the people, “the lowly.” In conclusion Horsley reminds us that the Birth Narratives are not focused on individual personal salvation or reward. The narratives are deliberate social and political polemic about a real savior from the subjection and oppression by religious and imperial powers. In sum a dynamic and dramatic introductory tale of the birth of the liberator down through the ages, Jesus of Nazareth. Liberation is a short book — about 150 pages, easily managed during reflection time in Advent.

—The Rev. Paul Buckwalter

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