Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners


In the Beginning: A Christmas Greeting for Restless Souls

Why do I suspect that the first Christmas really didn't look like this?

Why do I suspect that the first Christmas really didn’t look like this?

The Christmas story is about subversive beginnings, transformations that if you’re not attentive you’ll miss, but that mean a whole world of difference. A subtext runs through this story of a homeless couple’s journey ending in search of a place to give birth. They go where they expect to be taken in and are disappointed; but they finally find refuge in the barn, spending a sleepless night with a few braying donkeys while breathing through Mary’s final contractions.

Obviously, there is nothing pretty about this picture, despite Christendom’s best attempt’s to sanitize and romanticize the scene by robbing those in the story of their humanity: The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes. (If they’re somewhere in heaven, Mary and Joseph must be laughing over that one.)

The truth of the matter is that Jesus begins his life much like he will end it: at the margins of an empire; humbly, without recognizable affluence or power, with much blood, gore and difficulty.

Divine transformations—or beginnings that mean something more than merely fleeting resolutions—often happen in exile or at the margins of worldly power and are rarely (if ever) pain-free.

…so an anti-apartheid activist banished to an island prison finds his real life calling there, fortifying himself to lead a country into a new era of justice and reconciliation…

…or an ordinary 14-year-old girl uses her voice to tell the truth about her life as a young female under the ruling Taliban, and must recover from a bullet to the head…

…or, centuries ago, a little-known priest hangs his theses to a church door at Wittenberg and must flee for his life…and before that, a man with the trappings of wealth and power lays it aside to become a friend of the poor and of all creation (we know him as “St. Francis”)…and before him, the missionary Hilda travels to a harsh, inhospitable section of Great Britain to found an abbey, a site of healing and hospitality for wayfaring souls…

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, the Gospel of John begins, only to add that this Word came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

What sort of searingly painful tear in God’s inmost being did the birth of Jesus into this world require? To permit and endure this separation, and then to allow One’s very own flesh and blood to be mistreated, humiliated, and turned away from a warm refuge for the sake of the whole world being born again? As a mother, I cannot comprehend it.

But what we do have and may begin to comprehend at least in part is this story as it has been written down for us and read and re-read across centuries. About a new beginning on the edges of an empire, with all the promise, peril and hope that entails. About a God who works transformations from the margins, enlisting the humblest of beginnings to change the world for you and for me.

Only a God who can create something out of nothing can do this sort of thing; and God can do this for you and for me, too, this Christmas or any other day God chooses. This God can birth in our hearts love, joy, peace or hope where there is none. May we be there—at the threshold of our weakness and need— with our doors wide open to receive.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 



Previous Posts

Writing Sabbatical—and "The Departure of the Prodigal Son"
I'm sorry: my absenteeism at this intersection can be attributed to a number of things lately, the most pressing of which is my forthcoming book with author and Christian addiction specialist Jonathan Benz. The book (Prodigal Church or a version of it) is now officially under deadline and by April 1

posted 10:55:10am Jan. 26, 2015 | read full post »

Restless Soul Hall of Fame: Sister Corita Kent
Since NPR's recent segment, Sister Corita Kent has come to mind a few times this week as someone who d

posted 10:23:30am Jan. 16, 2015 | read full post »

"I Am Charlie Hebdo"
I struggle to know how to greet you after such a long hiatus from posting here—and in light of how much has happened in the world since Christmas

posted 4:42:48pm Jan. 12, 2015 | read full post »

A Christmas Homily
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. —Luke 2:6,7 The sheer physicality of this picture strikes me this Christmas. The ba

posted 1:54:50pm Dec. 24, 2014 | read full post »

Mental Health Break—Sprawl II
My favorite band these days is Arcade Fire, and I've featured the Canadian indie rock group before at this intersection between God and life. The lead singer studied Kirkegaard in college and their songs, like this one, are often subtle but brilliant critiques of the least aesthetically pleasing thi

posted 12:58:15pm Dec. 18, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.