The worn-out story of Christmas is told again this week, acted out in ridiculous and charming children’s pageants, or solemnly revered at artistic crèches by priests with incense wafting. Our familiarity can blind us to any connection with modern life.
At the same time, thousands ignore or scorn what they consider a fairy tale for naïve adults, the equivalent of Santa Claus with his flying reindeer.
It’s challenging to see beyond our culture’s conflation of consumerism with its strangely seasonal compassion for the poor. Is Christ's birth worth celebrating?
In fact, the old bible story has contemporary spiritual themes: our yearning for positive change, our perpetual struggle against destructive egotism, and our battle between fear and hope. The characters in the nativity drama, like other ordinary people in bible stories, show us our human options.
Mary, for instance, was shocked by her private situation, an unwed pregnancy in a patriarchal tribe. Somehow she decided to stand firm and trust her own encounter with God’s outrageous promises.
Joseph was confused and embarrassed by his fiancee’s circumstance. Despite his social conditioning, he, too, went with God’s counter-cultural advice.
Sheep herders on the night shift were changed from nobodies to insiders when they heard gob-smacking news about a nearby miracle. Instead of pooh-poohing their wild vision of angels shouting, “Don’t be afraid anymore. God has a peace plan!” they ran off to see if it was true.
Foreign scholars were wise enough to be humble in their pursuit of knowledge and eventually discovered the unimaginable.
Lacking such wisdom or humility, King Herod in his corrupting robes of power, gave in to ego’s lure. Hundreds of babies were murdered because of his raging tantrum. He gained nothing.
Anna and Simeon waited for decades, longing for a dream to come true; would their world ever be delivered from oppression? They refused to give up on God.
Common, but always miraculous, a newborn baby lay in naked vulnerability. Did Eternal Love in fact risk everything for brand new possibilities?
These characters made their choices as we keep making ours. In disaster, or ease, or tedium, may we hear, “Don’t be afraid. There’s great news! You’re not in this alone.”
Welcome to Christmas, dear Reader.