The Bible teaches freedom, but everywhere it is understood to demand obedience.
We seek the development of our spiritual lives by seeking a spiritual master to obey. We seek a better world by creating a government, a corporation, a political party, or a religious congregation to which we will subordinate our wills.
We say, “Someone please tell me what to do.” Then, we submit to authority for an alleged higher good.
But the good that God seeks for us is other than the good we have sought. For God seeks freedom for us and the growth of responsibility that comes from freely choosing our own behavior. God offers forgiveness and redemption when our exercise of freedom falls short of what is good.
So, in the long run, the exercise of our own freedom is inherently good for us.
Celebrating the birth of Jesus means paying attention to the New Testament gospel of Matthew’s emphasis on the liberation of ancient Israel from slavery in Egypt. After Jesus is born, his parents take him from Bethlehem and flee to Egypt in order to escape King Herod’s attempt to kill him (Matthew 2:13-15).
This flight into Egypt and the return of the family to the land of Israel after King Herod dies “fulfill” the words of the prophet Hosea, “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Matthew 2:15).
“Fulfillment” presents us with an ancient and unfamiliar concept. In the gospel of Matthew, it meant that Jesus— from the moment of his birth—incorporated, summarized, and recapitulated the history of ancient Israel and then brought that history to the goal that God wanted for human beings.
God wants for us to be free because selfless love flourishes when we do not coerce each other. Jesus embodied this in his relationship to God. Jesus’ relationship to God is the relationship of a free son to a father. We should understand this relationship not as the opposite of a mother/son or a mother/daughter relationship but as the opposite of a slave master and a slave. (Hosea 2:16, Romans 8:12-17, Galatians 3:28-4:7, Philemon.)
The Bible teaches freedom, but it also narrates the squandering of freedom. Hoping for a little more security, we give up on freedom. Hoping for a little more money, we give up on freedom. Courage collapses, and a false and fearful prudence causes us to submit and to make others submit. Everywhere people submit to so-called “reality” and refuse the gift to be free.
At Christmas, we need a new birth of freedom.