Supposedly genteel Episcopalians putting each other down; Roman Catholics nursing wounds from the sex-abuse scandal; Christians of various stripes disputing noisily over the war in Iraq and the nature of matrimony -- hmmmm. More peace and good will, no doubt, as ordered up by the angelic host.
Christianity's origins, whenever they arise in conversation, sometimes make Christians attentively examine their shoelaces, hoping the indicated question will not arise: If Christianity is so wonderful and life-changing a thing, what is wrong so much of the time with Christians themselves? What kind of walking billboards are they for Little Lord Jesus, asleep in the hay?
The Spanish Inquisition often comes up in conversations of this sort and of course slavery and the alleged oppression of minorities. There are grunts of disgust when "fundamentalist" interference with "science" or "the separation of church and state" gets an airing.
The history of Christianity, it sometimes seems, is an unholy mess -- apart from those instances of holiness and beauty that transfigure life, just not often enough for some.
The key point to keep in mind is the circumstance of the birth at Bethlehem. Now what in the world (or out of it) must the creator of heaven and earth (a k a God) have thought He was up to, pulling off such an improbable event in a backwater province of the Roman Empire? What was the purpose here? You know, the marketing strategy?
The written testimony of the early church has to be weighed. The angel spoke of a "savior," born in the City of David. Saviors are no small potatoes. This was no rescue party sent out from the Roman barracks in Jerusalem, with a clatter of horses and spears. This was heavenly intervention -- very large potatoes indeed. That was because, by the common account of the succeeding centuries, there was this troubling factor in human affairs called Sin, which was to be redressed through the birth and the death of the Son of God in human form.
It was the matter of sin that embarrassed then and embarrasses now. Sin implies fault, shortcoming. What, us? Short in the virtue department? Somehow we weren't quite ... nice? That couldn't be it. Of course we were nice! Didn't we help out at home, pay our taxes on demand and hold our cutlery just so?