Here we are at Christmas. Advent sped through in three weeks and a few hours. For most, the floor is littered with colored wrapping paper, and there is an anxious rush to the get the tree out to the curb. After all, there are gifts to be exchanged for something else you probably also don’t need, but fancy.
For us it is, or should be, different. The Incarnation is here, celebrated last night and again this morning. Fed by the Body and Blood of he who came to give us eternity. Uplifted by song and candlelight, and, if we are lucky, incense. We have just begun the journey, as we do each year, reliving the birth of Jesus the Christ. Yes, we tearfully think on Mary and those shepherds, and the donkey, mustn’t forget the donkey. But our heart swells with the realization that this baby we revere is God made Human, and the long road to the Cross and Resurrection, to the new heaven and the new earth with the Second Coming, has begun. Oh, blessed child of promise, our newborn king. Wrapped in a probably not too new, probably not too clean blanket, the swaddling which confined babies against the dangers of the world. So vulnerable. Babies die. Mothers die. Childbirth is tricky, even now. There he lies in a warm straw bed surrounded by family and chosen family.
For us the Holy Season is not over, but just beginning. The foreign wise men with their gifts are yet to arrive. Herod has yet to issue a death sentence on potential newborn usurpers. The family has yet to take the refugee trail, a Middle Eastern story so tragically familiar to us. But for today we rest in peace. We glorify God made flesh dwelling once again among us.
If we have waited, prepared, what has this Christmas day brought to us? Maybe the silence of Advent might linger a little as we worship in wonder at the gift this infant brings? We can’t go all Puritan and forbid electronic gifts, X-box mania on Christmas morning or iPhone zombies at the family dinner. But I want time to embrace the Messiah, the Christ, to know him, love him, worship him, obey him. So how do we hold on to the simple, yet not simple, blessing of the Incarnation while enjoying Christmas reveling? Surely Jesus danced at wedding feasts. We know he drank wine. Enjoying life is no sin. Still, it is probably worthwhile to stay a little longer in that barn by the manger where the Christ child lies.
The Episcopal Café isn’t CNN or the Washington Post, so I sit down to pray and write a week ahead of publication. As of two days ago, in my real time, there were protests in Bethlehem. Thank God it was mostly noise, and nobody dead, and the Church of the Nativity still stands. By the time you read this, God only knows what the political climate will be in our holy city. Maybe peace, we pray. But overall, we are not living in a time of peace, in the Middle East or in Middle America. Almost nothing happens without protest, often violent, and even when the protests are for the best and most noble reasons, it doesn’t take long for the sins of the French Revolution to be apparent, when liberty turned into mass executions. We live on a seesaw of a world overwhelmed by lack of faith and one ruled by faith in ideological, not loving, ways.
And yet we sit by the crib of the newborn Savior of the world. Because action without him, without his guidance, without the will of God, is sin, open to the will of evil. Yes, out of date, old fashioned words. We could use modern business terms, or psychological ones. That would make no difference. If we believe in the Incarnation, the only thing that should be guiding us is the will of God, the Messiah, the Christ, born this day in Bethlehem, in a stable.
Jesus was not the Messiah that the oppressed crowds in Jerusalem were looking for. They wanted a war leader to lead the revolution and kick out the Romans and restore observance of the Law. There was a long history of and national pride in war leaders and prophets from the beginning. They wanted a Judas Maccabeus. That is not what they got, and Jesus died in the political maelstrom of that place and time. Sometimes a glimpse into God’s wisdom is overwhelming. God picked the perfect time. Not that is was a unique time, but it was a dangerous time, one we need to heed. We have relived it over and over, and we are reliving it now. That baby is not called the Prince of Peace because he was a coward. He chose to die for us. He chose to obey his Father for us. He didn’t practice peace with clenched hands and grinding teeth, or with the passive hostility of faux love of neighbor. Neither should we. God knows the difference. We need to yield to that child, bow low, ask little, give much.
So let’s get back to the mall, and presents, and the throw away Christmas of the Christmas Culture, turning now to new sources of revenue. Maybe a day, just one day, without the game box, with the phone and tablet only to Skype grandmother, early church, even if we were there for midnight Christ’s Mass. Maybe a grand dinner to celebrate the abundance of our God, not to impress the foodie coworkers, but to bring cheer to the table. Maybe we can start with some simplicity, kindness, laughter, love, and maybe a little silliness. And hold close to our hearts the gift of the Incarnation made real in the lives of those around us. That is the Light of Christ. And let that light of Christ spread to the next door neighbor, the coworkers, the parishioners who haven’t shown up lately, spreading one by one to the whole world. Imagine a Christmas without a war in Bethlehem. Maybe that is what today is all about.
Our journey has begun.
Dr. Dana Kramer-Rolls is a parishioner at All Souls Parish, Episcopal, Berkeley, California and earned her master’s degree and PhD from the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, California.