WHEN we think of the birth of Jesus, a vulnerable babe in a Bethlehem stable, it seems incongruous to consider too Isaiah's promise, ``the government shall be upon his shoulder.'' But we do. Acknowledging that worldly power, with all its huff and bluster, must yield to innocence and peace is part of the Christmas story's wonder. Government, or the manner in which peoples are organized and conduct their collective affairs, has been a constant player in religious history. In Jesus' time, the trek to Bethlehem was necessary because of the census. The flight to Egypt was undertaken to escape Herod's death decree for young males. The conflict between religious codes of conduct governing healing on the sabbath, and a simpler code of loving God and neighbor, became a subject of Jesus' deeds and teachings. The issues of prisoners ' rights and jurisdiction among Roman, ecclesiastical, and mob claimants were dramatized in the seizure and deaths of Jesus and his followers. Even payment of taxes became a lesson that spiritual abundance can meet any legitimate daily need.
Through it all, it is fair to say that government has been improved in the measure that God's love and care for each individual person has been recognized. This progress can be followed from imperial Roman law to English law and modern democratic constitutions.
Individual freedom is still far from universal. Whether by race, nationality, religion, gender, or class, persons still fail to receive full legal and social recognition.
And yet something continues to work in human thought, to hammer the hard places where that is necessary, to refine, to illumine.
Implicit in the manger is the throne:
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.