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There are many miracles in our beloved Christmas story — a virgin birth, a mysterious star guiding astrologers, a “mass” sighting of a host of angels in the sky — but none so jarring as the miracle that is the total upheaval of who we understand God to be.
The humility of Jesus’ birth and early years run in complete contrast to the story we ourselves would have written. That story would have been one of power, wealth, and esteem; a story of widespread acknowledgement of our own rightness; a story that we’re still tempted to believe is the better one.
The Biblical Christmas story, by contrast, is a story set in a scene of poverty, suffering, fear, and oppression. Mary, Joseph, and little Jesus became a family in a time when their people, the Jews, were oppressively ruled by the Roman Empire. They were not the victors; they were the terrorized ones, the afflicted ones. And they taught us that the afflicted ones are always nearest to God.
The birth of Jesus — and by extension the brazen declaration of God’s presence on earth — took place in a cave, not a palace. The Incarnation of God drank from a woman’s breasts, not from a gold plated goblet. When Jesus was still very small, Scripture tells us the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape the threat of certain death. Rather than enthroning God-Become-Man, those in power sought to end his life.
Living as refugees, Mary and Joseph risked their lives to protect their son, just like parents all over the world continue to do to this day. In the faces of the Holy Family we see the anguish and vulnerability of our refugee and immigrant neighbors; but we also see their tenacity, hope, and resolute belief in the possibility of a better world.
Jesus’ birth and life give us the keys to that better world; one in which compassion and justice reign, in which the pursuit of power bows before a preference for the poor. For too long we have told and retold the Christmas story as though it were a nursery rhyme crafted to give us comfort. But what if the real point is for us to become uncomfortable?
This Christmas, may we open ourselves up to holy discomfort. May we believe what the Christmas story tells us about the way we were meant to live, the things we were meant to care about, and the way Jesus still leads us to be present to the suffering of the world today.
This Christmas, may we allow the uncomfortable truths of the story to stir our hearts towards empathy, justice, and action.