Dear Friends — We shall not talk of carnival lamps nor bb guns. Nor will we speak of Red Ryder wagons. Neither shall we talk of Angels getting their wings and bells on Christmas Eve. We will, however, speak of the “Big Picture.”
Too often, we wrap ourselves in the non-essential elements of the Nativity. How often do we hear a litany of information and conjecture that, at the end of the day, it does not matter? Some of what I mean goes like this:
“Jesus was really born in the Spring; maybe even July.”
“It really wasn’t a barn it was a house and the ground floor was where livestock was kept.”
One of my favorites is, “It’s a pagan holiday and shouldn’t be observed. It is, after all, Saturnalia! So we should not endorse Pagan worship!”
Others are more factual or philosophical:
The virgin birth could not have happened.
There was no historical record of a census by Augustus.
If Jesus was conceived by God how could they claim Joseph’s lineage?
How many wise men were there? Perhaps more than three!
There really wasn’t a slaughter of innocent children by Herod because there is no record.
I used to engage in these exercises myself. I really got into those same nay-saying positions especially when I was a drinker. O lawdy was I a mess.
I’d argue about anything, particularly if it would get a response. But, and you aren’t going to want to hear this, time and especially sobriety has caused a good and more favorable response to the Nativity. It has allowed me room to really consider what this story is all about.
In the pursuit of understanding I came to know that only two of the four Gospels really talk about the birth story, Luke and Matthew. Each tells a different version. There is always an attempt to conflate or combine the stories into one. Nope, that is a deadly habit.
Next, John talked about Jesus in the cosmic sense and he used that lovely language to place Jesus as above time and space and always existent. John sometimes gives me a headache because he is so deep and profound. So, what we are left with is a legacy of traditions, storytelling, and two Gospels written at different times by different communities to different cultural audiences. So, the stories are different.
Should that bother a Christian and should we put our shields and bucklers on and prepare to defend our beliefs against these critics? NOPE.
The scriptures, both Christian and Jewish, are rife with metaphor and allusion. It is a deep and historic understanding that these are BIG stories and while they may contain some history these stories try to tell a truth. We people do much better with story than we do with theology. A friend of mine, for example, is a VERY visual learner who is in seminary. He uses films as his launching pad for learning. He fills in the blanks of those films with his understanding. All of his learning, however, starts with a movie. So, we learn much more and take in much more with story.
That brings us to “The Big Picture”so here is the message and spirit of the Nativity, at least to my understanding:
A man and a woman were brought into a divine enterprise. This birth would prove to be unique among all births; so the claim would go.
What portrait is painted in this divine enterprise? That this baby was met with hostility, this baby and the family were surrounded by violence. That this baby yet survived this violence.
Yes, violence is very much a part of the two Nativity stories. In Luke we receive a radical declaration by Mary in her Magnificat, “Exalted those of humble estate.” That declaration is an echo of the Song of Hannah, “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap” . Both speak of the lowly being raised up and the powerful being brought low. Radical stuff but it is the stuff of Christmas/Advent.
In the texts we discover that the powerful try to laud power on what we see as an innocent baby. A deceitful and jealous ruler tries to end the life of this innocent and, in so doing, preserve his own power and stature. It doesn’t work.
A newborn is surrounded by violence and yet that innocent is also surrounded by awe and spiritual majesty. “The Big Picture” says that into this world enters hope, possibility, and love, the likes of which can only be measured in the mind of the Creator.
“The Big Picture” says that against all odds, against hatred, violence, and rejection this infant when grown will become a harbinger of the deepest and most profound love that the world can know. Howsoever one receives the message of Christmas, Jew, Muslim, Christian, Rastafarian, yes, Buddhist as well, the spiritual message, the Holy message, the Divine communication is this: there is a force in this world that is, at its center, love and dignity. It, for we Christians, starts with an infant narrative. This story is a blessing. It is real in the sense of what it feels like and what it says of this world. It’s historicity can be challenged but not its intentionality. Love triumphs. We have dignity no matter our social standing. There is hope.
With all of that in mind, we at St. Anna’s and I wish to offer you blessings for this Season and for a New Year:
Blessings and thanks to all of the bars, clubs, and individuals that have given so generously with toys and funds to ensure a great Christmas among the children who too often have too little.
Blessings to all of the performers who in drag bring laughter and joy, hope, and humor.
Blessings to men and women and those in transition that have come out and are living authentically. We add our prayers of hope for those who are still wondering, deciding, and perhaps are in hiding. Hope is found in the Christmas narrative.
Blessings upon those who yearn for lovers lost that they may heal and once again know joy because you are beloved.
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoners,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
—The Work of Christmas, a litanyby Howard Thurman (1899-1991)
Don’t get caught up in the mess. Know that a light and a fire was sparked in the first century that calls all of us to Hope and that something new and something old is afoot in the world: Divine Love. God bless us one and all. Thank all of you for simply being you.