When people talk about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” which Christ are they taking about?
Here’s a one-paragraph summary of the way the Bible tells the story of Christmas and the life of Jesus::
Jesus is born to an unwed, teenage woman of color. She, the child, and her husband cross national borders without documentation, because they are fleeing violence in their home country. The child grows up to be a homeless teacher who leads a radical movement of people that refuses the boundaries of creed, class, or role in society. He travels around giving a version of free healthcare to anyone who asks and feeds the poor without judgement. He preaches a love so radical, and an allegiance to relationship over power so compelling, that it becomes illegal. The most powerful military force in the world deems him a threat. He is then tortured and executed by the state – modern-day-equivalent of an innocent death row inmate.
That’s the Jesus in the story. I didn’t make that up. It’s right there in the books. It’s the same set of books people read when they claim to love the infant refugee in the manger, and yet tell refugee families today to go back home.
In just the past weeks, as the holiday lights are going up, my government used tear gas on asylum seekers at our borders. We used a weapon on children in diapers that is illegal during times of war.
The Christmas story suggests that we can understand God by bearing witness both to the child at the border and the one in the manger. It says that possibility for a new life (perhaps Possibility itself) doesn’t necessarily rest in the hands of the people who have the most money, weapons, and official power. New life, God, Possibility – they are breaking forth in unexpected places. With the right attention, we will learn about new life in refugee families, in unwed teenage moms, and in homeless teachers. We will find it in outcasts and the powerless. We will find it in moments of despair, in perceived weakness, and in every person. Even you.
The teacher Jesus is often not who churches have taught him to be. For more on his radical approach, check out my previous post, Come and See.