Here’s an op-ed type piece I wrote last Christmas about God’s strange approach to public relations issues that first Christmas.
Christmas: God’s public relations problem
by Larry Harvey, published in Southwest Nebraska News, Dec 12, 2003
That first Christmas was a public relations disaster. You know, the original Christmas with the baby, the shepherds, the angels, the magi from “the East.” That angel thing was a nice touch – brilliant in fact. It impressed the guys who were there; “they were terrified!” then “suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the first angel.” The angels were not the public relations foul-up. That was an excellent use of advertising dollars.
The mistake was in the choice of audience. The incredible show was wasted on a few unnamed shepherds (low-paid agricultural laborers) out in the hills. Just a few miles away, in Jerusalem, sat Herod the King, with all the power of the government, surrounded by the temple and the religious leadership of the nation. A message important enough to be delivered with shining glory by multitudes of angels is surely a message important enough to be sent to the top levels of human pride and power in Jerusalem, maybe even to the Emperor in Rome, not to a few rubes out in the hills! But the angels disappear without a trace; the shepherds make a short visit to the baby then they also disappear. What an incredible waste of a wonderful PR opportunity!
So what-s up with this? Is it incompetence? Does the Almighty need a better advertising agency?
Similar problems run through the whole story. Joseph went to Bethlehem “with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” Whoa! Stop right there. This looks really bad. Do they want to destroy the whole project right here at the beginning? Unmarried. Expecting. Traveling with a guy she’s not married to. This is not looking good. Do they really expect this to be the beginning of a moral revolution that will improve the whole human race?
Then there are the “three kings” who came to visit the young Jesus. “Magi.” As in magicians? As in fortune-tellers? Star-gazers? Astrologers? Please, can’t we find some nice respectable Jewish leaders, somebody really wealthy and honorable, to come and worship this “new-born king”? Why bring in these pagans (We’ve all heard about “Eastern religions”!), and foreigners at that?
And then there’s the political extremism in young Mary’s prayer-song (the “Magnificat”). “My soul glorifies the Lord . . . . He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” Class warfare talk! People will get the wrong idea. Ah, the idealism of youth – she no doubt grew out of it. So why not just forget she ever said that? Maybe comments like that are the reason no good Jewish businessmen or prominent religious leaders were willing to come and honor this unwed and somewhat radical young woman’s cute baby.
With such an entrance, this child could be expected to exit history without making a ripple or leaving any legacy at all. But wasn’t God Himself supposed to be behind this whole thing? What’s up?
One of two things was happening. Either the culture was doing so well back then that the Holy One wanted to participate and enjoy it, and maybe coach them a bit; so He came as a baby, etc. OR they were doing so poorly that He had to start some radically new type of involvement and effort – if that’s the case, we should expect the story to develop in ways contrary to people’s expectations.
I think that is just what happened. And Jesus’ life over the next thirty or so years further illustrates this split: what God values and the ways God works are not the ways any of our human cultures have run or are now running. God is very interested in us, and He is present, but He and His activities often go unrecognized. God realizes that if you send angels to people who don’t really want Divine involvement, the angels will be ignored. And if you do everything as expected, there is no need to even do it; that also will be ignored. So God sent His message in His own way to those who could hear it. They were not the ones running things, whether in politics, religion, or the media.
But who knows? Maybe He has plans to change even that.