The Nativity scene is one of my favorite parts of the Advent/Christmas season. Remembering the stories of childhood, the mystery of the biblical narrative, and the beautiful images that are almost other-worldly. Angels worshipping from the skies above, stars shooting across the Milky Way, and wise men travelling from thousands of miles with great gifts. While it’s easy to put all this in context and question the way it all really went, it’s still a beautiful picture. One that captures our imagination and connects us to a narrative has existed for thousands of years.
But even as we may still find comfort in these images, we are also forced to look honestly at what is going on in the social and cultural context.
For instance, I really struggle with the reality that Mary was a child bride. I’m not questioning God’s intention here. I’m just commenting that today, when I read stories from the Middle East of girls being forced into marriage at 12, 13, or 14, I get angry. Why do people not only allow this, but expect this of girls that are still children. It’s not okay.
And I hope that Mary, in her world, was treated with respect, love, and grace by the man who took her as his wife. That her life was free from abuse and violence. That she had everything she needed and hopefully some things she wanted. I hope she had a wonderful life that defies what we see today.
Another thing we see is teenage pregnancy. Yes, a holy one. But how is that when we see Mary, we find a way to be okay with it. But when it happens in our churches and families, it’s the end of the world, the thing to never be spoken of? Abstinence wouldn’t have solved Mary’s pregnancy. (duh) And if we’re being honest, teaching abstinence-only opens the door to pregnancy when kids don’t have other tools available. Educating teens about the way their bodies work, the realities of pregnancy, and how to prevent it; along with what makes healthy relationships and creates a healthy future, are much better tactics than refusing to have a very important, and meaningful discussion about life.
In this story we also see the oppression of the least of these. Shepherds were not at the top of the food chain. In fact, they were often the poorest parts of society. But here, even at His very birth, Christ draws unto himself those that are the least. The first to hear the good news, the first to bow the knee in worship, shepherds lead the way. This foreshadows the resurrection, in which the women are the first to learn the news, not the men. Those of lowest standing are the standard bearers of the gospel.
We also encounter homelessness. Mary and Joseph are traveling to be counted in a census. The government forces them to leave their home and go back to the town of Joseph’s lineage, Bethlehem. The were probably running behind everyone else because Mary was with child. And they find themselves alone, vulnerable, and without a place to sleep. Many homeless face situations where things beyond their control force them onto the streets to face the world alone. It’s something I see everyday on the bridges of Denver, and something I’m reminded of everytime I drive past the Mission. There are hundreds and thousands of homeless, right here, this Christmas.
Then, after giving birth in a stable, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus are forced to flee. AKA, they become refugees. I’m late to the game with this observation. But given the current climate, it bears repeating. They were refugees fleeing for their lives from an oppressive regime. They were targeted because of a religious prophecy that might or might not come true. They were targeted out of fear. They were threatened in their very existence. They were running for their lives. And they needed a safe place to live and stay where they could create a new life. Just like the refugees of today.
Those refugees never get to see the side of the privileged. The three wise men (some say kings) were some of the elite of their day. Bringing expensive, maybe even priceless gifts. They wanted to be the first to see what was going on, to be in the center of the action, to know everything that was happening. They had the resources and means to travel, and felt safe enough to carry expensive things with them (implying they had some kind of security). They had it all.
But it is interesting. Their encounter transformed them. They worshipped. They protected him. They returned home another way. They said no to the powerful, and protected the weak. Over and over we see this in the gospels, not only in Jesus’ actions, but in the characters in his many parables.
And so the transformation begins, and hope is born into the world. For it is through Christ that all the world has hope for change. It is through the Christ that creation will be renewed. It is through this child that lives will be transformed and good will overcome evil.
It is through Christ that women will be treated as equals, that everyone will have control over their own bodies and destinies, that the oppressed will be lifted up, that the homeless will find shelter, that refugees will have safe new homes, and that the privileged will be agents of transformation in an unequal world. Hope is come into the world that all might find wholeness, fullness, worth, and love in the heart of the one who brings light into the darkness and makes all things new.
You can support the homeless in Las Vegas through Caridad Charity.
You can support refugees at Shelter Box.
Support women’s hygiene in Syrian refugee camps.