I have no idea what this Christmas will look like, but one thing is for sure—it will be far from flawless, and I’m OK with that. After all, the first Christmas wasn’t picture-perfect either.
But for centuries, many Christians have embraced a sanitized nativity scene. The holy family is framed by a pristine stable, complete with lowly shepherds and clean, gentle animals in a fully hygienic stall. Mary is in a stunning blue, spotless gown, gazing lovingly at her glowing newborn, who is cooing softly while lying on unspoiled hay. Joseph is attentive to both of their needs. Neither of them has one single hair out of place.
I’m no expert on stables. In fact, I’ve been in exactly one stable in my life. But I can tell you unequivocally that there are definitely nicer places to deliver a baby. Nevertheless, this is where Jesus is born.
God incarnate chose to enter humanity in the stench of a stable. Jesus wasn’t born in a palace surrounded by wealth and royalty. He was born among animals and surrounded by shepherds who were the least in society. What does it mean for us today? What does it tell us that Jesus chose to enter humanity and announce his arrival to filthy shepherds?
If Jesus were born today, where would his birth take place? In the United States—one of the wealthiest countries on the planet? Well, let’s pretend for a moment that he would, so, then where? Would Jesus be born in a wealthy suburb? A gated community? Would Jesus be born in the ghetto? The inner city? In a hospital? Under a bridge? In a shelter?
God chose to enter humanity through an unwed teenaged mother, in the muck. God chose to show up just where you’d least expect. God doesn’t come at the center of the world to rule in power and might. Rather, Jesus is born on the fringe, on the edge of society to shift our consciousness to a new understanding.
Christ’s presence isn’t contingent on our circumstances. He is always here, always with us.
Jesus arrived in a manger, in a stable with the mire. Siblings in Christ, this is good news. If the son of God can arrive in the middle of stench and filth, then so can joy, peace, justice, hope and love. Just as Jesus came unexpectedly at night to some lowly shepherds, he also shows up in our lives in unexpected ways and in unexpected places. Christ’s presence isn’t contingent on our circumstances. He is always here, always with us.
No matter where you find yourselves, you are never without a savior. Even in these strange pandemic times when very little goes as planned, new life still breaks forth. God’s work is done in the midst of circumstances that are chaotic, bleak or ambiguous. Jesus, God’s incarnation, the savior of humanity, arrived in the midst of political upheaval and “no vacancy” signs. But make no mistake—God still arrived. Jesus still shows up!
Jesus finds a way to come to us and nothing can stop him—nothing. Not COVID-19 (nor any of its variants), divorce, financial hardship, internet outages, heart attacks, climate crises, terrorist attacks, quarantine, politics, cancer or anything else. Nothing can stop our savior from coming to us.
As we celebrate Christmas, may we experience the radical, awesome, incredible proclamation that the Word indeed became flesh and continues to dwell among us. The good news for us today is the same good news from the very first Christmas.
Be not afraid! Behold, I bring you tidings of great joy. For unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given. His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and the Prince of Peace.