I suspect that Israel under the Roman occupation, as it was 2000 years ago, would have not been a great place to have a baby. The Jewish people, living under Roman rule, were on the verge of an uprising, caused in part by the imposition of the census by Quirinius. There was social and political unrest, economic uncertainty, and Israel’s future was precarious. They had already lived through several invasions by foreign powers, they had no God-appointed king of their own, and their religious institution––the Temple in Jerusalem––was run by priests co-opted by Rome. True, there was peace––the great Pax Romana––instituted by Caesar Augustus, but it was the kind of peace that comes from having soldiers on every corner. The Roman Peace was a peace imposed from the outside, not a peace that stems from within.
So why on earth would Mary have said yes to having a baby under these conditions? More to the point, why on earth would God have decided to come as a baby under these conditions? God could very well have brought salvation and healing to the world through other means. Incarnation, becoming embodied, taking on human flesh and its vulnerability to suffering, its mortality, its limitedness––these are conditions that are totally foreign to the impassible, immortal, unlimited divine. So why would God choose that the Son be born into this human world, into these “foreign” conditions?
Why does anybody choose to have a baby in a foreign place? Many of us don’t have to struggle with the decision of whether to have a baby in another country, away from where we ourselves were born. Most people in the world don’t actually get a choice about whether or not to even have children. At the same time, for those privileged few that do, it’s still not an easy decision. We like to talk about “anchor babies” as if the people having those babies are out to swindle the country or to take advantage of “the system,” but I doubt that deciding to have a baby outside of one’s own country is made quite so callously as that. To have a baby is to have a part of yourself out in the world, and to have a baby in a foreign country, is to have your baby––this living, breathing extension of yourself, of your body and, more importantly, your heart––in a place and among people who might not treasure your baby the way you do. Their values and their customs and priorities will be different. It’s likely they won’t want what’s best for your baby. To bring the embodiment of one’s own hopes and dreams into a world that might not get it, that might even reject it, is not something anyone does lightly.
Having a baby is a commitment to bringing a new life into the world. When the baby is born in a foreign country, it’s also a commitment to that country. It might sound odd to say, but an anchor baby is a symbol of faith. Particularly, it’s a symbol of faith in the goodness of this strange and foreign country. When we get to choose to have babies, as Mary did, as God did, we choose to have them in places that feel safe, that we can trust. Countries with which we are willing to have some kind of long-term commitment. We believe in the place where our baby is to be born, we believe it is worth having a baby in, we believe in some kind of goodness in that place, in its people. It is actually a compliment to a country when people want to have anchor babies there. It means that they see good in us.
Jesus is God’s anchor baby. Something of a provocative statement, to be sure, but one that I think is Good News. The Christmas message is about the birth of the Son of God, the Word of God, the embodiment of God, into a foreign place. It is about the divine being born in human form, into this human world. It is about God choosing to make a future among us. There is nothing more foreign to the divine than this world. And yet God chooses this as the place to be born. God chooses humankind as the community into which Christ will be born. God chooses us to receive God’s anchor baby.
In sending the Son, God’s own body and God’s own heart, into this world, God is making a commitment to building a future with us. God is showing us that we are worthy of hosting the divine presence. So many of our Christmas hymns say that God sent Jesus to us because the world is a gloomy place, and we are dreary people. And it’s true, the world at times can be a very dark place, but we are not worthless. We cannot be worthless because we are God’s own creation, made in the image of God, created with the light. And because God sees in us whom God created us to be, God sends Christ into our midst, as a sign of hope and faithfulness. Faith in us. Faith that we are still, deep inside, who we were made to be at Creation - people created with God’s light, people whom God, on the sixth day, called “very good.” People worthy of receiving God.
Yes, the world could be a better place. Israel during the Roman occupation two thousands years ago could have been a better place. But the world, and we, are not irredeemably awful. God has chosen us. God has chosen this world as the home in which to be born as a baby, to dwell with us. God has made a long-term, eternal commitment to us, to being with us, to being in our world.
Jesus is God’s anchor baby; God’s choice is to be with you. No matter how worthless the world––or your heart––might feel, no matter what midnight of the soul you might be experiencing tonight or in the weeks or months to come, remember the Good New of this night: God has faith in your worth, God sees you as “very good.” God is committed to being with you––forever––because God sees in you the light of Creation, the light of Christ, and God believes in you. God is “pleased to dwell” with you and has chosen you to receive Christ, the most wonderful of all gifts, and for this we say, thanks be to God. Amen.