It’s been an extra busy few weeks around here with Refuge life and kids and the juggles of this season, and I haven’t had space to write much. I know this season can be tricky for many, and 2016 seemed to have extra measure of ugliness for a lot of people I know. For me, 2016 was pretty bumpy and I am ending the year tired but also more clear than ever on what I want to dedicate myself to in 2017–advocating alongside others who are on the underside of power and doing what I can to keep creating safe and brave spaces for healing and change and action.
I’ve written a lot about When Christmas is Hard over time so I didn’t want to re-create that this year. If you or someone you know is struggling, this post has the most comprehensive list of links in it:
- When Christmas is Hard, for people who need a little hope this season.
Today’s post is short and simple but what’s been swirling around in my head this month. For many faith shifting friends, Christmas and Easter can be weird seasons; the realities of changing beliefs and the “I don’t really know anymores” can make just-going-through-the-motions-of-previous-years impossible. The part about Christmas I think might draw us all in, no matter what we still believe or don’t believe, is the true beauty and simplicity of the wild and crazy story of Jesus that compels people around the world to love, to hope, to peace-making (and yes, for some of you feeling extra skeptical and cynical right now, to a lot of other things that aren’t so good, too. I hear you! But for the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on what I think was always the idea and what keeps compelling me).
The Christmas story represented in this image that I bought last year by my friend David Hayward really says it all–Christmas is about turning everything that’s comfortable, sensible, what-we-thought-we-should-be-aiming-for on its head.
It is about God demonstrating “this is how much it won’t make sense but that was always the idea.”
God, a human being, in all the mess and blood and guts of birth.
Parents, unwelcomed in all the places they tried to find rest and shelter.
A wailing baby boy, born to nobodies in a stinky stall with animals bleating all around.
Lowly shepherd kids, the first to know.
Unlikely strangers drawn to come and see, hearing from angels that this baby was something special.
The important people cared about keeping their importance.
The important people hunted him down, afraid of losing power.
The important people later refused to listen.
The important people, clear that they didn’t want to have to give up the things Jesus said we’d need to.
Separation from the messy.
Distance from the marginalized.
Today, all these years later, this is the story unfolding. Churches, unfortunately, are sometimes the worst at this. Doing everything possible to keep people comfortable, “distraction-free”, separated-from-the-world, “above” others, distanced because of teachings that Christians are somehow better than the rest of the world.
No matter how much my faith has shifted, I still love the Christmas story.
I love the messiness, the who-God-speaks-through, the stinky and the weird.
I love power turned on its head.
I love that it makes no sense.
And at the same time, I hate that power has so much….power.
Trying to wreck people.
Leaving people to fend for themselves, with the odds squarely stacked against them.
Abusing the vulnerable.
Discriminating against people made in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect.
Keeping “them” at a comfortable distance.
Caring mostly about self-protection.
Perpetuating the same story that was in place 2,000+ years ago and continues to circulate–Important people matter and lowly people don’t.
But Jesus’ birth reminds us that just isn’t true.
The story was always about the un-important people, at the center of it all.
“The last will be first and the first will be last.”
“Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.”
“Blessed are the spiritually poor.”
“Blessed are those who mourn.”
“Blessed are the merciful.”
“Pick up your cross and follow me.”
“Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'”
The story was always about turning power on its head.
About Hope for the unimportant people, the humble, the open, the desperate, the willing.
About birth and flesh and blood and guts and mess and glory and pain and suffering and hope and beauty and mercy and weirdness and how love was and is being born again and again and again despite ignorance and complacency and pride and position.
Love, in the flesh, in the thick of us, among all the unimportant people.
Peace and hope from Colorado this almost-Christmas-Eve week, Kathy