I’d like to stay up here as the center of attention, given my preferences, not least to show off my new haircut that was a Christmas gift from and for young Maibritt Miller.
But pondering this Christmas story, this focus strikes me as unnatural. So I’m going to wander away from up front, to be dis-placed and removed from the center. One logical relocation might be to those closets, the sort of spot Christmas decorations will soon be stored away, not just out of sight but out of mind. I could crawl under a bland utilitarian coatrack or something. So it isn’t because it’s pretty or especially seasonal that I’m tucking myself back here under this little white pine. It really is with the intention to be out of the way, hiding in the very back corner.
See, I’m doing this for the perspective of this Christmas story, of Jesus’ birth and God’s presence among us.
None of us do very well at focusing on Jesus. It’s said he’s the reason for the season, but still it’s plenty easy for him to get lost and pushed to the side in the hustle and bustle, the holly and jolly. Yet I’m not off on the margins to point out that we’re doing it wrong, nor as a creepy voice lurking behind these chairs. That makes it only into a lecture or bad news, accusations lingering in your ears, neglected oughtas.
But this good news faith of ours isn’t about what we’re doing right or wrong, or just how attentive to holiness we may imagine we are. This faith is exactly founded in these edges. I’m over here, on the periphery of the picture to realize what that means for God in our lives.
We might notice this characteristic since “there was no place for them in the inn.” Even if there were room for them in the inn, not many would smile at the prospects of going through labor at Howard Johnson or an AirBnB instead of hospital maternity suites with expert attention and care. So already even Mary’s ideal childbirth options are terribly below our standards. I’ve heard some of you quick to observe next that the manure of a stable may not be the hygienic conditions we’d favor for delicate medical moments.
But we should also be ready to see that this wasn’t Mary and Joe on vacation, taking a holiday trip over the river and through the woods, when a surgical surprise sprang on them. This was a forced march, a compelled journey, mandated by a repressive government. This was part of being captive under the power of a great empire, that they had to travel to meet an obligation. The Gospel of Matthew’s version sees this family as refugees, attempting to cross borders to flee political violence. So it isn’t only impoverished personal details of not having enough resources to buy better accommodations. This is also public problems of a marginalized and disregarded group of people.
There’s reason these days we’re thinking about how we wall off children at our borders, children who have been fleeing danger, children and families put into even more desperate circumstances in these weeks when so many in our nation claim to be celebrating the birth of Jesus. That seems to be missing what sort of birth this is, a very blurred sense of focus in understanding Christmas.
Speaking of celebrating births, though, and to misplace the focus back on me, it was my birthday on Saturday, and my mom related that when she was waiting to deliver me just before Christmas, it felt vacant as most nurses were off duty and the wandering group of carolers failed to come into her wing.
Well, Mary had it a notch worse. That birth had no well-heeled adoring crowds or even extended greetings on Facebook. It wasn’t folks showing up with hotdishes and desserts, and probably in her situation she never could’ve expected a baby shower to stock up on necessary supplies.
What Mary got was shepherds. If there would’ve been somebody you didn’t want dropping by in the middle of the night, it would’ve been these unwashed unkempt Bedouin nomads, unused to civilized behavior, probably not very good at watching their mouths, stuck working bad hours in bad conditions. These well-wishers would’ve outstayed their welcome practically before they came in the barn door.
So we have an outcast baby celebrated by the funkiest fringe.
And then there’s us, singing sweetly, dressed up with the glow of candlelight, and going off into the night to whatever comes next, with packages to unwrap or a fancy feast, or just getting on with life, whether with joy and contentment, or squabbles and oppressive concerns that return their confining imposition on us.
But the great good news of this Christmas evening is that this baby born on the margins and surrounded by the excluded won’t remain left out. He’s not dependent on you trying to integrate him into your life or changing routines or really feeling eagerly dedicated to him. This baby who was born knowing what it’s like to be a refugee, hungry and homeless, who received the praise of shepherds, this baby being born into our world doesn’t go about looking or waiting for his place, isn’t knocking at the door of your house or the entry to your heart waiting to be let in.
He’s already here.
He’s in those frustrating moments where Christmas glitz and glamour are less than you’d wish, plus he’s there when all is merry and bright.
He’s in the comfort of close family and friends, but also when those relationships fracture and fail.
He’s in the plenty of full tables and glasses of cheer, but just as much in the lack and the yearning and famished feelings.
Sure, he’s in this gathering, as we remember for these few minutes to focus on him and celebrate, but he’s also in villages wrecked by natural disasters and wars, and he’s coming to town whether you’ve been naughty or nice.
He’s in the pause of vacation and goes along to jobs that are brutal and underappreciated and even finds his way into big boardrooms and lives that would have little-to-no interest in him.
Like a thief in the night, he just won’t be kept out, but is here for the sake of all lives. So it’s not about us keeping Christ in Christmas or receiving your king. There is no margin, no limit, no place where he isn’t. This is the miracle of the incarnation, of God’s presence here.
This is good news of great joy for all the world, and coming to you. To you is born this day a Savior. Ready or not, he has come.