For those of you not in our area: I am the faith columnist for the Key Peninsula News, our local paper. This was my article published in the December edition. It received quite a bit of positive feedback, so here it is for your enjoyment. It was originally entitled "Just Another Article about the Real Meaning of Christmas."
It’s the story of a pregnant teen and her shame in the face of an honor-bound society. Subplots include a government that will stop at nothing – even violence – to maintain control. Throw in economic hardship, lack of affordable housing, and an ill-timed road trip. As for the characters, you have it all – from kings and priests to common day laborers and migrant workers in the field.
Sometimes this is all lost to our modern sensibilities. Christmas has been redefined for us by cute crèches adorning our lawns, by Christmas card watercolors of happy people living happy lives, enjoying their place in this drama. Choirs sing songs of silent nights, of peace, of joy and gladness and festivities as we celebrate this season.
But strip that all away and take another look. It wasn’t a silent night. Childbirth never is. Transport the scene into a dark cave, surrounded by smelly farm animals, and no midwife to be found. You can bet the cattle were, indeed, lowing. A frightened mother giving birth to her first child in the dung; and then, just when she’s ready for a quiet moment, in barge filthy shepherds clamoring about angels. It’s not the most sanitary way to begin a story.
Things take a frightening turn. The local politician, sensing a threat to his power, orders the National Guard to head into town and kill every baby boy. What should have been a celebration with visiting dignitaries turns into a midnight flight, with death nipping at their heels.
This is the story Christians tell at Christmas: a Savior born to shame and poverty, a child bullied by the authorities, a king who shows up in the grimy soil, a messiah whose coming was announced to the outcasts of society.
In the end, it’s our story, yours and mine. We who struggle with shame, who work hard to put food on the table, we who find our lives manipulated by those in power, we who have been hurt by religion and politics and family and so-called friends. We who come home with dirt under our nails and grease stains on our clothes. Who, as the old carol says, find ourselves “beneath life’s crushing load . . . who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow.”
This ancient story surpasses the sanitized store-front display and becomes our story. As the angels declared, this is “good news of great joy for all people.” “All people” includes you and me. And I don’t know about you, but I could use some joy right about now. The world is in desperate need of good news.
And so, this: God showed up, standing in opposition to the slave-traders, the bullies, the religious elite, the violent, the thieves in high places. In so doing, he stands in solidarity with the poor, the marginalized, the broken, the victim, the lonely, the shamed. There you have it: God is on the side of the minimum-wage-earning single father forced to work through the holidays just to feed his kids; he stands against the corporate powers growing rich on the backs of those workers.
If you’re feeling particularly lonely, desperate, sad, used, or angry, then remember this: Christmas is for you. Not the plastic, shop-til-you-drop Christmas of our local malls, but the real Christmas – the story of one who came to be with you in the darkness. Behind the facades of office parties and family gatherings and fake snow and manufactured joy, the real story is a story of hope, a story that gives meaning to the struggles of our lives. We are not alone, but are part of this story. God is on our side. God is with us. Emanuel.
On behalf of the Key Peninsula Ministerial Association, I bid you a truly merry Christmas, and joy in the New Year.