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Christmas Through a Wide Angle Lens

 Christmas Eve

24 Dec 2023


How are you going to play Christmas this year?  We can play it as a Hallmark movie with an inevitably happy ending for the well groomed cast.  I think that is how this holiday is often played: a bit of magic, lots of good tidings of material joy, and of course lights and presents.  Is that bad?  No.  Too much mullygrubbing makes us unwelcome company.  I still love to go around neighborhoods and look and Christmas light shows.

While we call ourselves Easter people, we are also an Advent people and Advent is linked to Christmas and tightly as Lent is to Easter.  Each makes the other better, like a good marriage makes each partner a better and more complete person.

Today is both Advent and Christmas, as is each December 24th.  Today is the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love.  Peace, hope, joy, and love.  These should all point us to Christmas, as John the Baptizer points to Jesus.

Within those themes, Advent is also somber. We are reminded of what is not yet and of things that still are. We all see the world through colored lens, colored by our own culture, beliefs, theology and religious traditions, and personal experience.  These are our filters, and as we look at the world we so often see not what is possible, but what is merely present. 

In the northern hemisphere, these days are ones where traditionally people slowed down and looked inward.  It was the time for mending and creating, for storytelling, for rest. But now days we are in a frenzy, with too much to do and too little time in which to do it, or at least that is what we tell ourselves.

Advent would have us slow down and ponder the world we have and consider the world we could have. As in Narnia, we live in a world where it is always winter but never Christmas. Christmas isn’t magic, but it is mystery.  It is the sort of thing that you cannot possibly hope to understand. 

Advent and Christmas are subversive!  I know, I know, we don’t like subversive; sounds too much like some malignant force bent on taking over.  But I tell you God is subversive as much as God is love.

The joy, the miracle, is that God became one of us so that we might understand how we could become holy.  It didn’t have to happen that way.  But it actually did have to happen that way. Mary and Joseph were dirt poor, the baby was born in lowly circumstance and the folks who were the first visitors were not the governing elite; they were people who were often at the end of their rope. Jesus did not come into this world to confirm the status quo, but rather to turn the world upside down.  He came to invite us to take risks, none greater than the risks he took. Yet even at his birth people took risks or came to unspeakable danger. The magi traveled through dangerous territory with not GPS and then risks Herod’s rath by leaving another way. Joseph took a risk in his marriage.  Mary put her life on the line with a pregnancy and a delivery in less-than-optimal circumstances.  The mothers in Bethlehem wailed over the loss of their children to Herod’s jealousy and greed.

We need to look at Christmas from the underbelly, from the odd angle; then and only then can we see what it is all about.

I love Christmas and always have.  But my reasons have changed as my eyes have been opened.  This is God’s subversive way of entering our world and turning the tables on those who exist in positions of wealth and power. 

This year the ELCA church in Bethlehem is not holding their usual nativity scene.  Instead they have a baby Jesus laying in the rubble, surrounded by the shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and the animals. It is a sobering reminder of the 20,000 Palestinians who are dead, along with 2000 Israelis. What is a life worth?  Why do we think that if we kill enough people we will be “safe”?

That God chose to come into the world as a completely vulnerable human being gives us the answer.  The Good News of Christmas is that the world is about to turn, turn so that justice comes for all and there is a place at the table for all. This is the miracle of Christmas and it waits for us to behold the light, the star, and to follow it to a place where everyone can behold the face of God.


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