One Astonishing Thing About Christmas Just Doesn't Get Old
*note: this article was originally written for our local paper.*
We religious folks put a great deal of thought into Christmas. It’s a time of year where everyone else celebrates with us, even if they enjoy the holidays a little different than we do. Of course, we also like to imagine that very first Christmas–and we like to put ourselves right in the Nativity scene. What would it have been like to be alive in Bethlehem, about two-thousand years ago?
Forget about the carols and hot chocolate. If you’re hopping in a time machine, you’d better bring some gold along, too! The region of Palestine–the name the Romans gave to occupied Judea–was in a tumult. The census requiring Mary and Joseph to move had displaced many families. The census was likely motivated by the government’s desire to make more tax money–which is so unlike today, where the government only taxes us for the best of reasons!
Our world differs from the land of ancient Israel in so many ways. But the Christmas story resonates with us because of how similar the elements of the story are to our own age. Nations around the world still struggle under oppressive rulers. Governments clash with the wills of their people. Refugees pour over borders seeking shelter from the conflicts in their homeland. In the midst of this turmoil, one family finds their way to a suburb outside of the capital, just in time to give birth to their firstborn son. Homes in that part of the world used to share their living space with the animals they owned–bringing them inside an adjacent manger at night to keep them safe. Jesus was likely born in the humble dwelling of an ordinary family, just trying to get by!
The simple idea behind the Christmas story is still so shocking and revolutionary:
When God comes to us, He shows up right in the midst of our ordinary life.
He doesn’t wait for the perfect conditions. He isn’t the kind of person to jump in the pool only when the water is just right! He arrives right where we are, as we’re just trying to get by, only because we’re the sort of folk who say yes to him. It isn’t our grand gestures of religious commitment that welcome God!
It’s the little hospitality we give to strangers that makes Jesus feel right at home with us.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus should remind us of the Syrian refugees we welcomed into Canada. They should remind us of our neighbours unloading their moving truck, or the family just trying to find work in the middle of a downturn. When we notice the folks we might often neglect, we’re back in the Christmas story. When we just take a moment to stop and make our kindness known to others, we create space for a genuine miracle! It’s essential to the Christian tradition, and to the spirit of these holidays, to remember a simple truth: God always shows up wherever people choose to love one another.
You might think that your kind gestures don’t amount to much. You might not see the difference you’re making when you give to the poor, or bake cookies for your kid’s hockey team, or hold the door for a fellow traveller. But these small moments are full of what Christians like to call “incarnation”. You see, in our tradition, God doesn’t love us with empty words or good intentions. His love always takes on human form! It all started with a crying, pooping newborn in Bethlehem–but his love still has a body today.