Believing and living the Christmas stories is dangerous, especially today! But that is precisely what we are called to do. I have an uneasy feeling that the coming months will test the seriousness with which Christians in America take Christmas.
What does it say to us that God chose to come among us as a vulnerable brown baby, born of an unmarried peasant teenager in a smelly barn in a remote village in the Middle East? What are the implications that the child was born among the homeless, his family having been forced out of their home by the taxation policy of the political powers of the times?
According to Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus spent the first two years of his life as an immigrant in Egypt, fleeing the slaughter of the innocents by a power -obsessed autocrat. Among the first people to pay him homage were foreigners. They had a different religion, a different way of knowing. And, they came “from the East,” the country from which terrorists had attacked.
Regrettably, we have so sentimentalized and domesticated the story of God’s entrance into the world in Jesus of Nazareth that we now have normalized values and actions that blatantly contradict the message of Christmas. That is a frightening judgment on our failure to faithfully live the Christmas story.
Christmas confronts the Americans with a stark contrast to prevailing values as exposed in the recent elections. Matthew declares that Jesus is “Emmanuel,“ God with us, and his name means “he saves.” The participants in that first Christmas are timeless vehicles of divine revelation about where God is and through whom God saves.
The parallels to current realities are striking! Prevailing political rhetoric and policies favor the Herods, the rich, the privileged. Immigrants are walled out, denied access to necessities. Foreigners are suspect. Brown and black people are disproportionately victims of injustice. Women are subjects of “locker room talk” and powerful men’s sexual gratification.
If the Christmas stories are true, God is especially present among the very people stigmatized and insulted in the recent political campaign. God is still coming among us in the lowly victims of political power grabs, taxation policies that favor the rich, and practices that exploit the poor.
In the midst of the immigrants fleeing oppression and death is Emmanuel, God with us. Those young women denigrated as sex objects are called “blessed” by the One who comes to save. And God continues to show up in places we label as “enemy” or “terrorist” territory, where people read a different sacred book.
Although we are surrounded by the darkness of cruelty, hate, violence, and exploitation, we remain hopeful. Christmas also declares that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it!” Emmanuel is still with us!
We, therefore, can live the Christmas story with courage and hope. We do so by joining Emmanuel among the homeless, the foreigners, those with different religions, and the exploited so that what is done to them is done to us. We can challenge the Herods because we know that the baby in Bethlehem’s manger is Emmanuel, the One who saves and prevails over all the world’s despots.