We all know that safety is relative to social context just as risk is essential to life, living and learning. And it is in the Christmas story (and other spiritual stories) that we find inspiration, hope, imagination and reality about living, learning and risk.
We know that the birth of Jesus was political because Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt as refugees fearing (Matthew 2:13-23) what Herod might do. Here is a weak little baby born in a shed behind the back of a pub and the powerful ruler of the day seeks to kill that baby. We know from historians (Josephus) at the time that Herod took this all seriously by giving an executive order called the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’. This order is captured graphically by Rubens . It was the imagination of the Magi (seers and visionaries) that carried the story of who this little baby might be that posed a threat to those who loved power and ego (https://brianzahnd.com/2018/12/slaughter-innocents-dark-side-christmas/ ).
Although this is a Christian story, there are many other stories where power seeks to silence those who embody the questioning of power, dehumanization and technique (https://ellul.org/themes/ellul-and-technique/ ). When you read the story of Jesus politically, you see that all he did was about risk and un-safety. From the start of announcing what he was on about (John 2:1-12) he threatened those who enjoyed the abuse of religious power, political domination and forces that dehumanize persons.
It is in the best interests of orthodoxy to turn this story of the fallible baby and family into golden heroes, shining lights and oozing wealth. This small refugee family sought asylum in Egypt in poverty and weakness not the safety of wealth and power. We forget amidst the myths and symbols of Christmas that have now been culturally normalized that none of this represents the real story. Nothing about the Jesus story symbolizes safety. Only the comfort of wealth seems to seek to gloss over and cover up the reality of fallibility and immortalize zero.
The story of Christmas is not about fearing fallibility (https://www.humandymensions.com/product/fallibility-risk-living-uncertainty/ ) but celebrating it. Paul would articulate this message 50 years later when he explained that ‘strength is made ‘mature’ in weakness’ (2 Cor 12: 9). What this means is that the façade of denying fallibility is the real weakness and that owning fallibility builds empathy, community and ethical living with others. This is the message of Christmas. Not the giving of presents but the giving of presence.
As I write this blog I am breathing in toxic smoke (https://the-riotact.com/canberra-air-quality-almost-500-worse-than-hazardous-threshold/346527) from fires that one might describe as apocalyptic (https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/mbmm8v/sydney-looks-apocalyptic-as-toxic-wildfires-choke-the-city-with-smoke) and there is nothing we can do to escape it (https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/nsw-rural-fire-service-map-shows-massive-extent-of-bushfires/news-story/0bd5be470d55ac2f8b06922e1a72b6c5 ). In the face of such fires what idiot would speak the nonsense of zero? As my city chokes in this smoke for weeks and perhaps months, a wish for a ‘safe’ Christmas seems hollow (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6548771/act-facing-smoke-and-heat-health-hazards/ ).
Perhaps at Christmas it might be better to just say ‘I am (my heart is) with you’ than ‘be safe’, at least in my city and state where hell seems to have visited us (https://www.sbs.com.au/news/hell-on-earth-nsw-queensland-residents-describe-battle-to-save-homes-from-fires). This doesn’t mean one has to be resigned and fatalistic as binary thinkers project – because we ‘fight’ these fires and people die doing so (https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/dec/20/nsw-bushfires-rfs-two-firefighters-killed-south-west-sydney ). Accepting fallibility is not a resignation to hopelessness but a will to empathy, living and learning. This is why zero is anti-human and dehumanizing.
For me, the Christmas story about heartache and fallibility captures what we feel and the Australian emotion of Christmas. Safety is only ever temporary and at all other times we have each other.