Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day

To YOU is born this day...
Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)

Like many serving churches in some way or another these past few weeks leading up to Christmas have been anything but restful. We often tell our congregations that Advent is about waiting and preparation, that it is a time to be introspective and to slow things down despite societal and consumerist impulses to over-indulge, over-schedule, and over-spend. I find myself even more over-scheduled than usual, as Christmas parties get penciled into my calendar along with pageant rehearsals, special choir rehearsals, additional services... If I am waiting, it is a very busy type of waiting. I tell myself that at least I am preparing myself for Christmas, as I am supposed to during the season of Advent, but what kind of Christmas am I actually getting myself ready for?

Last Sunday I found myself running around the sanctuary (following the two worship services that had been held that morning) trying to help herd hungry children together for the final rehearsal before the annual Christmas pageant, which is performed on Christmas Eve. It is a typical pageant; older children play the role of narrator, reading the familiar words we find in the gospels of Luke and Matthew that, when combined, provide us with the Christmas story many of us know by heart. Mary is a pretty girl wearing blue, the innkeeper is played by an awkward, pre-pubescent boy, and there are three kings. It is the same script from last year, and the year before that, and the year before that; and although there are grumblings that perhaps it is time to rewrite the script, everyone knows that will not happen. People come to Christmas Eve services to hear these familiar words, and if there is one thing worship leaders often learn the hard way it is to not mess with Christmas.

However, I wonder if we do not only the Christmas narrative, but also our congregation members, a disservice in our annual display of adorable children dressed in bath robes. I am all for embodying the W/word, but when it comes to the Christmas narrative God has already done the embodying for us. We are celebrating and remembering the incarnation, when “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). I do not think we can truly begin to grapple with or understand the radical message found within Luke’s text unless we remove the cherubic faces of children from our nativity scenes and search for the faces and stories of those who are placed within that ancient world and our world today.

In this story we find characters that seem incredibly distant, and yet we are surrounded by people just like them each and every day. We think of Mary, a “pure” virgin, who has found favor with God, but who is also an unwed mother whose partner almost abandoned her and who could have been easily ostracized by her community on account of her unplanned pregnancy. Her fiance, Joseph, is a man who works with his hands and does what he must for his family, including traveling an incredible distance because of a government decree. We find a family far from home, without access to health care or support, struggling to find adequate shelter not only for themselves, but for the new life about to be born. Surely, there are Marys and Josephs among us?

In this story we find shepherds, but we do not understand who shepherds were. We envision pastoral paintings and hear the sounds of lutes and harps blending with the gentle baa’s coming from grazing sheep. We do not realize that the shepherds found in the gospels were some of the lowest of the low, men who could not find any other form of work, who lived away from the towns and cities guarding sheep and goats from predators. It was a dangerous job, an undesirable job. It is to these laborers that the angels first come; not to kings, not to white-collar workers, but to the graveyard shift; and the men who fight off wolves and lions are terrified. The angel’s message turns their world, and ours, upside-down: to you is born this day a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. To you, shepherds, and you, day-laborers; to those who are cast down and aside, those who are oppressed, those who are the least, the last and the lost... it is to you that the Lord has come.

Christ continues to dwell among us, and we are called to celebrate the incarnation not only at Christmas, but each day. We find Christ among those we consider to be the least of these, among the sick, impoverished, and oppressed. May we also be Christ, serving those around us, giving voice to the voiceless, as we join the voices of angels and shepherds alike as we celebrate that, for unto us the Son is given.

Amanda Rohrs-Dodge is a third year MDiv student at Drew Theological School in Madison, New Jersey and is the student assistant pastor at The United Methodist Church in Madison.

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