There’s so much that’s wrong in our world, especially this year: pandemic infections running wild; death toll rising; the poor and marginalized suffering most, as always; the climate crisis threatening all of life on this planet.
And there was so much that was wrong in the world of Mary and Joseph’s time: their country under armed occupation; a brutal empire colonizing the known world; poverty the norm for most human beings. And now they’re on the road without shelter and the baby’s coming.
But ready or not, perfect or flawed, Christ is born into this world.
We’ve had a tumultuous year. Before we realized the severity of the pandemic to come, crowds were marching in the streets of many cities to demand justice for indigenous peoples whose lands and rights have been trampled for so long. Later, wearing masks and socially distanced, we came out again in support of Black Lives after the killing of George Floyd proved to be the tipping point for our awareness of systemic racism. And yes, there have also been marches opposing Covid-19 restrictions, protesting rules about mask-wearing and lockdowns. We’ve seen inspiring crowds and ugly ones.
But inspiring or ugly, peaceful or violent, Christ is born into this world.
We’re longing for hope and light now – the vaccine light at the end of the pandemic tunnel. The line from Isaiah, “The Lord has bared his holy arm,” makes me think of all the footage we’ve seen in the last week of people rolling up their sleeves to get those first precious doses of the vaccine. Light and hope are coming.
Light, though, shines on things we’d rather not see; it illuminates everything, good and bad. The tent cities of the homeless in our communities, in the cold, because not enough of us cared enough to address the housing crisis years ago; the poor wages and working conditions of essential workers in long-term care homes, migrant workers on farms; the fatal neglect of our seniors with inadequate safeguards and inspections. And yes, our own impatience and pouting at the privileges we’ve had to give up. I’m not proud of how much like a spoiled child I’ve felt at times, who can’t have her way and travel when she wants, see family when she wants, and visit friends when she wants. The light shines on our darkness and shows up the things we’d rather keep hidden.
But ready or not, in darkness or in light, Christ is born into this world.
When we’ve made the Christmas story too idealized, too perfect, with clean barn animals and Mary without the blood and sweat of childbirth, and shepherds cuddling adorable lambs, then we’ve lost part of its amazing truth: that Christ is born into our world of massive imperfections and destructive sin and mind-boggling stupidity and failure. This world with its horrendous mess and evil and brokenness is precisely the world God loved so much, and loves so much, that Christ was born.
We’ll never be able to clean up our act enough to make a suitable welcome for this holy child. It’s only with this holy child that we can receive the grace and goodness that enables the world to be changed – step by step, hand in hand, day by day. We can’t do it by ourselves.
And the good news is, that means we can relax a bit because it’s not up to us to make everything come right. That’s God’s job. And that’s what grace is: a free, unearned gift of total love. It’s up to us to make ourselves available for God’s grace to work through us. Our task is to be open, humble and also courageous, for the holy work of salvation that God does through us, in Christ – the holy work of reconciliation, justice-making, and light-bearing.
We’re not going to forget this Christmas. We’ll reminisce in years to come about this COVID Christmas when we had to be apart, and couldn’t be in church together singing carols and lighting candles. But perhaps it can remind us that it’s into this sad mess of a world that Christ was born, and is born still. And perhaps we can see signs of the miracle of that happening around us, in the care people are showing for one another, the generosity, the awakening to the needs and injustices, the new perspectives we’ve gained by the shining of this light in our darkness.
So merry Christmas, my dear friends. I’m glad we’ve found a way to be together on this holy day. Christ is born, here and now. Glory to God! Amen.