The Disruptive Christmas Story
Michelle Jones, Pastoral Intern and Postulant for the Diocese of Toronto
“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”…
I cannot hear Luke’s rendering of the birth of Christ without hearing Linus’ voice and envisioning egg-nog and cookies…
For the past hundred years the Christmas story has been competing with the soft, fuzzy, consumer-driven interpretation of Christmas that our culture here in the west has conjured.
During the era when church and culture maintained a symbiotic relationship, the church domesticated the Christmas story. We dressed up our children as angels and shepherds and joined in creating warm, fuzzy Christmas sentiment. Which has it’s place – but perhaps it does very little for the building up of our faith.
For the story that Luke tells is really one of disruption upon disruption.
There are actually two stories running parallel to one another which ultimately converge. While both are stories equally jarring – they describe two different types of disruption that co-exist constantly in our world.
The first story is that of Mary and Joseph on a journey.Who likes travelling? Who doesn’t? Who has mixed feelings?
We often speak ambivalently of travelling… warm climates, meeting new people – seeing beautiful sites… But boy it can also be disruptive. Joseph, forced to take his very pregnant wife on a long journey to his town of origin. Mary, a novice at giving birth. Finding nowhere to stay – no online booking or calling ahead. There was no back-up plan.
And then we have the second story. The disruption of the shepherds. They were scared. They had to choose whether to stay put or leave their flock of sheep – their livelihood. The story says they went with haste. Haste!? These rough men had to enter the village at night and hunt about for a baby… How would they be received? How would they find this baby? How disruptive all of this was to their regular daily rhythm.
The first disruption: that of Mary and Joseph, is imposed on them by Caesar. Imposed by the state. Imposed by their place of birth and their economic and social situation. I recently read a very similar story in the New York magazine of a young mother – Syrian refugee – (Turkia) telling her experience of giving birth in Ritsona refugee camp just outside of Athens. Her story tells how she had to fork over her placenta for testing to prove her baby was hers in order to receive post-partum treatment at the local hospital. Both birth stories speak of a disruption resulting from the attempts to govern our fallen world. There is no choice for these women in either situation.
The second disruption, that of the shepherds, is an internal one. It is a disruption of the heart. Imposed by God. Unlike the disruption imposed by Caesar, with God’s disruption there is freedom of choice. The shepherds could have stayed put. They were presented with an opportunity to leave their current situation and move towards their Saviour. The choice was theirs.
In our modern day story regarding Turkia’s birthing experience in the refugee camp, we are told of the attending mid-wife’s pivotal role. Empathetic to the vulnerable position this new mother was in; anticipating that authorities would be demanding a placenta sample; and, risking ridicule from the other residents of the small, overcrowded retrofitted shipping container in which they all lived, she hid Turkia’s placenta in the bathroom. This disruption to the mid-wife’s routine called for her to take compassionate, selfless, and merciful action. It was a choice that was hers and hers alone to make.
Back to our Christmas story.
Here we have two groups of people; fraught with anxiety and puzzlement – excitement – thrust together. And in the midst of the chaos and turmoil God promises what? God promises peace. “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy … Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours” What is this promise of peace?
As these two stories collide, the only evidence of peace is found in the stable. That stable is an exemplar of hospitality. Some scholars say that, contrary to popular theories, Mary and Joseph were not abandoned to a desolate, cold stable. They arrived in a town full of family members. And while there may have been no room in the inn – they were given the next best place. In those days people lived with their animals in close proximity. Contrary to the image of the conditions being cold and stark, the stable would have been warm and cozy. We imagine Mary and Joseph scrounging for bits of cloth to cover their little baby. Actually, the cloths referred to in the story were typical of what a peasant family would dress a newborn. Mary probably had brought those with her in great anticipation. And in this warm stable the shepherds find who they are looking for. They are welcomed and listened to.
And our first glimpse of God incarnate is of a baby lying in a manger. I read a quote recently… “How can I be afraid of a God who comes to me as a baby?”
A skeptical friend asked me once, “Do you believe Jesus was God?” To not believe this would be to live without hope.
Jesus is my peace. In Jesus lies our hope of a loving, merciful God. A God who so desires to be in relationship with us that would forfeit power and prestige in order to share in our plight; share in the disruption imposed on us by this wounded world. Our peace is in knowing that a loving God is with us.
Yet paradoxically the source of our peace is also disruptive.
Jesus Christ calls us out of our comfort zones. He calls us to lay down our weapons and our shields (of all makes and shapes) and walk the earth as he did – putting others before ourselves; standing up for the downtrodden and the weak. Always moving toward union with God. Always searching for where the prince of Truth and Justice and Forgiveness resides. If you truly seek Jesus, as the shepherds did, you cannot remain where you are. There is no staying put with the sheep – attending to things familiar. There will be disruption.
Perhaps you might say – “I’m not looking for him,” or “I’ve already found him thank you very much.” To that I say, the deepest part of who we are is always looking for Him. Always desiring to be in communion with God. We are always longing for the peace that only Jesus brings.
The story of Jesus’ birth is not a story stuck in time, some 2,000 years ago – to be dragged out once a year and dressed up with tinsel, angels wings, and stuffed animals. This story is living and active. It finds itself repeated in our own stories. From our birth to our death, and all the major life crises in between. The Christmas story finds itself hidden in all the everyday small disruptions found in relationships, the food we choose to eat or our challenge in accessing food; The things we choose to spend our money on or the challenges we face accessing money. We encounter disruptions beyond our control and disruptions that present us always with a choice. Just like the shepherds in the fields abiding, every choice we make either leads us toward or away from God.
And, in every moment – every disruptive moment – as we move toward the stable, we travel with the promise: “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy … Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours”
Take heart dear people of Christ Church Bolton. Fear not. Leave your precious cargo – your old familiar ways of operating – and run to Bethlehem. Run to the Prince of Truth and Justice, Forgiveness and Peace. Let the words of Christ be your map. May the sign posts along the way be marked clearly. May every choice you make – may every turn – bring you to the simple unadorned stable. To the Christ child. And may the warmth of that place bring you a peace beyond comprehension.