The word was born and lived with us. We have seen how precious he is: As precious as a parent’s only child, A gift in which unfathomable reality fully abides.
The man whose birth we celebrate today became the one we celebrate by showing us that the birth of every child has the capacity to change the world.
Behind the mythological stories of Christmas (both ancient and modern), and underneath the shreds of wrapping paper leftover from mere indulgence lies the hope that we might begin to treat every child as having that capacity.
Where we see that kind of love, and when we live our own lives in the reality of it, there is something profoundly worth celebrating.
It all started with the idea, The idea in God’s mind, The idea which is God.
It started with God. Everything exists because of it, Nothing exists without it. Life is possible because of it. And in it lies enlightenment.
Such light pierces through the dark, And darkness cannot put it out.
If the community of the 4th gospel knows anything about shepherds and angels and mangers wise men from the east, there’s no indication of it in anything they left behind.
Instead, for this early tradition the arrival of Jesus signals nothing less than the re-creation of the world. In their experience of Jesus, they had found enlightenment. (Remember, the Judaism out of which Christianity arose was an eastern religion. The Romans considered the Jewish god one of the oriental deities.)
And with enlightenment they saw the dawning of opportunity, a new way, to stand against the darkness of their time.
This Christmas Eve, whatever form your celebration takes, and from whatever tradition, and in whichever community, may you celebrate the dawning of opportunity to stand against the darkness of our time. And may enlightenment bring you renewed life, much joy, and (if we dare) the chance to participate in the remaking of the world.
At that time, an executive order was issued from the White House that there should be a nation-wide census. This was the first such census and was taken while Quayle was Senator of Indiana. And everyone traveled back to their hometown to be counted.
Since Joe was part of the David family, he went from Nowheresville, in Timbuktu, down to the David family’s hometown: New York, New York. He went taking with him his fiancee Mary, who was pregnant. While they were there the baby came, and Mary gave birth to her firstborn child, a boy, and she wrapped him in some old rags and laid him in a storage bin in a garage, because they couldn’t afford a room, even in the Bronx.
Meanwhile, down in Yonkers, there were taxi drivers gathered in a parking lot waiting through the night for dispatch. Suddenly a messenger from God stood there in front of them, and a divine aura rippled through the air all around them. They were terrified.
But the messenger said, “Don’t be afraid. See here, I’ve got great news for you – great news for everyone. Today, in the Bronx, your savior has arrived. He’s the one destined to lead you. And here’s how it’ll go down: you’ll find a baby wrapped in rags in a storage bin.”
Again, suddenly a whole convention of messengers appeared, singing about God, saying: Glory to God in heaven. May God’s favorite people be at peace.”
When the messengers had evaporated back into the sky, the taxi drivers said to one another, “Let’s drive up to the Bronx and see if we can find out what’s going on.” So they drove, fast, and found Mary and Joe, and the baby in the storage bin. And when they saw it, they told the story they’d heard about this child. Everyone who heard it was incredulous about what the taxi drivers said. But Mary remembered all these things, and wondered about them.
The taxi drivers went back, thanking God, because everything they’d heard and seen was exactly as the messenger had told them it would be.
In the midst of the imperial effort to make sure everyone is counted, the gospel unfolds among all the people who are forgotten.
Wherever you live there is someplace in a city near you that has been overlooked by the people who are writing the history books. It’s where the working-class people hang out nights waiting for work, and where the people who can’t afford even the cheapest hotel rooms pass the nights in the back seats of their cars with all their worldly possessions jammed into the trunk.
Wherever you live, somewhere nearby there is a place that teenagers give birth to babies out of wedlock and without health insurance or prenatal care, who still have hopes that their child will grow up to be somebody special, or at the very least won’t end up in a morgue or a prison before age 2, or 7, or 17, or 25. Perhaps they have these hopes for their forgotten children have a chance because some crazy taxi driver on the trip to the emergency room delivery reassured them that it was so.
But what makes the Christmas story so real is that, contrary to what we may think most of the time, the crazy taxi driver relocated from someplace we have trouble finding on a map, and who hardly knows how to speak English – the taxi driver is right about this child. And if God has anything to do with it, she will grow up to lead her people out of the projects.
But for this to happen, the rest of us who hear the story also need to recognize the truth of the taxi drivers’ witness, instead of being incredulous. The rest of us have to recognize and believe who this forgotten one born of forgotten parents really is. In other words, the rest of us have to come to terms with our intentional forgetting, our dismissal, of these places and people as being of little or no real consequence.
The whole gospel that follows is predicated on the the story about how, contrary to what you might hear in some churches, God lives out in the garage and in all the children born in the forgotten places. Nothing Jesus says or does in the gospel introduced by this story makes any sense if we forget that he began his life as a forgotten child.
This Christmas, here’s hoping we’ll remember longer than for just a starlit evening.
God’s relief has shown up, rescuing everyone, coaching us to give up godlessness and temporal concerns so that while we’re waiting for the wondrous hope of God and Jesus’ return we may live moderate, ethical, and religious lives. Jesus gave himself to us to rescue us from our propensity for evil, and to create a community dedicated to doing pure good.
The irony of this passage is that it’s about making sure everyone fits into the temporal expectations that Christians lead moderate, ethical, and religious lives. Which is the very thing Jesus came to call into question.
Jesus himself was never so concerned with purity as the Pharisees and the Pharisaical folks who co-opted the Jesus movement a couple generations later (and still claim to speak for Christians in much of the press).
Still, the community is not so far gone by the time Titus was written to have lost the collective memory that it was founded on the principle of doing good and renouncing what’s not.
But the relief Jesus showed up coaching his community to enact wasn’t according to any commonly accepted ethical convention. Nor was it moderate. Nor was it necessarily religious. You don’t get crucified for being a moderate and keeping your head down. In fact, moderates are very seldom even remembered. It’s the radicals and the reactionaries who end up in the news and on the crosses.
Incarnation, if you’re reading this just before Christmas, is as much about our living as it is about Jesus’ having lived. God’s relief has shown up. But, as it turns out, this time around that relief is you and me.