This year I spent the chilly evening hours of December 25th at a 12-step recovery meeting with a bunch of fellow addicts, and now I understand Christmas.
The birth of Christ, the Feast of the Nativity, is a story about an teenage couple who are smack in the middle of the worst string of events ever.
To start off with, the two teenagers are an unwed, pregnant girl and a soft-spoken, day laborer boy; not exactly a power couple to pay attention to.
Next, they are members of an oppressed people group in the middle of a contested bit of real estate. They’re home is under military occupation by the Roman Empire; an empire with a reputation for brutally conquering everyone in the known world.
But it gets better…they’re not married, and yet this girl is pregnant. This is a scandal. Technically, she could be killed by her community, or shunned at the very least. Her and the boy try to stay under the radar, not wanting to draw any unnecessary attention to themselves.
And then there is the census. That ass-hat, Caesar, decides that he needs to make sure he is accurately taxing his conquered subjects into oblivion, and in order to do that he needs to know exactly how many people he has conquered. So the order is given for everyone to return to their home town and register. So the pregnant teen girl and the “what-on-earth-did-I-sign-up-for” teen boy head to Bethlehem.
But all the hotel rooms are full, because of course they are (or are they full because there’s no way I’m letting those two degenerates stay in my nice hotel rooms). So they huddle into the stable behind one building, right next to the animals that a good Jewish boy and girl like these two wouldn’t even be allowed to touch…if they did, even God wouldn’t want to be around them.
And then they have the baby and put him in the feeding trough.
And then all Heaven breaks loose!
Shepherds – the bottom of the barrel of society in that day – who are out doing their thing in a field that night are slightly taken aback when a massive choir of heavenly beings start having a rave right in front of them.
Apparently, that baby that was born to those amount-to-nothing parents was…well, God.
Like, the creator of galaxies and mountains and wind and narwhales. That baby that was born next to unclean animals and put in a feeding trough and brought into a world where he was immediately categorized as at-risk…God.
God showed up to people and in a place that doesn’t make any sense. God brought hope into a situation that simply is without hope. God started a party in a field with the kind of people that you probably don’t want to talk to because that is how God works. God is found in the abandon places and speaks life into the broken hearts of this world.
That is what Christmas is all about. I’ve known all this for years now, but this past Monday, as I sat in the unused upper room of some aging church building with a small group of broken yet whole men and women, I finally understood this story.
We spoke of fear and anxiety. Fear of what will happen in our lives. Fear of what will happen in the world. Anxious over the dawning realization that I have so little control over so much of my life; that I have so little power to do good, yet so much power to do harm.
But the complete miracle is that the conversation didn’t stop there. As we continued to be honest together, we started hearing stories of hope. We shared experiences of pain and defeat and surrender that somehow, mysteriously, turned into freedom and peace.
And as the conversation in that group of Josephs and Marys and shepherds wound down, I realized that God had been there, because that is how God works. God is found in the abandon places and speaks life into the broken hearts of this world.
Today is the 3rd day of Christmas. We have nine more to go. I pray that this Christmas you would lean into the broken places of your life, your neighborhood, your world. I pray that you draw near to the abandon places of your city and your soul. I pray that you not ignore the brokenness of your heart, but would embrace it. Because it is in the process of embracing the brokenness that I am made whole. Because that is how God works.
Merry Christmas ya filthy animals.