Forgotten in Christmas homilies and hymns is the gritty story of human of resistance. Yes, resistance.
Of course, resistance is a cold word that chills the warmth of joy to the world and peace on earth. Some might say it is a negative word, especially members of the church of therapy and the culture of sentimentality. Yet resistance is at the core of the biblical story, albeit buried beneath theological tinsel and emotional twinkle.
Biblical storytellers recorded accounts of resistance. Mary resisted apprehension. Joseph resisted the divorce option. The shepherds resisted vocational isolation. Wise men resisted Herod’s political manipulation. Mary and Joseph resisted a familiar location for Egyptian immigration.
Jesus resisted the temple’s authoritarian intimidation. He resisted temptations in the wilderness before he resisted the religious leadership who disregarded the prophetic call to justice. Jesus resisted the exclusion of Samaritans. He resisted the religious segregationists who wanted nothing to do with drunkards, prostitutes and tax collectors.
Perhaps the biblical summons to resistance compelled André Trocmé to resistance.
The little-remembered pastor served a small congregation in the overlooked Huguenot town of Le Chambron-sur-Lignon in south-central France. He spoke out against Nazi Germany, challenged church members to shelter Jews and organized the resistance movement to help them avoid deportation to death camps.
Once asked by French authorities for a list of Jews in his community, he resisted the pressure to distinguish between Jews and other human beings.
By war’s end, Trocmé and his community rescued between 3,000 and 5,000 Jews from certain death, leading Israel to honor him as a Righteous Gentile.
According to a Nelly Trocmé Hewett, her father wrote Christmas stories each year to tell to the children when their nation was under siege. Angels and Donkeys: Tales for Christmas and Other Times is a collection and translation of these stories.
One story was about Eliud, who was born on the same day that Jesus was born, reared in the same village that Jesus was reared and had a father with the same occupation as Jesus’ father. Eliud and Jesus lived next door to one another. They were fast friends. They studied scripture and worshipped together on the Sabbath. They went together to hear John the Baptist preach and were baptized at the same time.
Unlike Jesus, however, Eliud gave into the tempter’s powers. Eliud remained silent when the synagogue erupted in opposition to Jesus after Jesus gave his manifesto about good news to the poor. He postponed following his friend in discipleship. Again and again, when Eliud encountered Jesus, he faced a decision. Each time, he took the path of convenience, so to speak. In other words, the man who knew Jesus better than anyone else was unable to resist the pressures of conformity.
Was that what Trocmé intended for his story? Was his point that knowing Jesus would neither shield us from the pressures of conformity, nor ensure that we take the path of most resistance?
We surely live in the vortex of conformity, even those of us who live in places where every tongue knows the name of Jesus. We are pressured to conform to commercialism and consumption, to conform to conventional thinking and convenience, to conform to faith as therapy and faithfulness as individualism, and to conform to nationalism as a defining quality of theology.
Outward pressure to conform necessitates the inward strength to resist.
If we hear anew the Christmas story this year as a story of resistance, perhaps we, too, will see faith as resistance and find the strength to resist the snares of conformity.
May the spirit of resistance be reborn on Christmas morn in the heart of every believer who celebrates the season of silent night and candlelight.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.