A Jesus Story? from Luke 2:1-7
?In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
You may have heard this story. It shows up in most Nativity plays. In our mashed popular memory of how baby Jesus got born in a stable, this seems like the beginning. The powers that be need a head count in order to levy a tax. Their census also conveniently helps explain how a man known for ministry in Nazareth may have been born in Bethlehem, 70 or 80 miles away.
But when Luke sits down to write his version of the Good News message, he does not begin with this story of a baby born and laid in a manger. Luke begins farther back with two old people, a childless priest and his wife who are waiting? waiting for some sign of God?s favor when all the evidence seems to suggest otherwise. Luke?s story begins with an occupied people pressed hard by foreign powers and dispirited by corruption among their own, waiting? waiting for some sign of God?s blessing. Luke?s story begins with an angel showing up unwelcome and unasked in the kitchen of a girl maybe 12 or 13 waiting? waiting for her life to really count. Luke?s story begins with human beings waiting for what is wrong in the world to be put right.
For me, the Christmas story often begins in the tiny kitchen of an upper level duplex somewhere in Cuyahoga Falls. There, one December night, I visited a woman I’ll call Ellen. Ellen was 73, and her life was a litany of all that is wrong with this world. Abused by those closest to her when she was just a child, she tried to stand up and confront the truth in adulthood only to be denied. She found love with a welcome and grace she had never known before with a spouse in adulthood. But the toxins he absorbed at work over the years poisoned him and left her nursing at his bedside for years while his lungs slowly failed and their financial resources disappeared. All of that left her, in what should have been ?golden years,? working for low wages as a home health care aid, praying all the while that her own aged body would hold out long enough so that she could care well enough for others? broken bodies to eat. Child abuse. Environmental injustice. Poverty exacerbated by our so-called health care system. See what I mean about all that is wrong with the world?
But as Ellen set out small plates to share a meal with me, I saw more than what was wrong with the world. I saw what was right, too.? I?d gone hoping to bring some comfort to someone lonely. I left singed by the flame of a life more holy, more hopeful, and more graced that I could imagine. And I can?t explain exactly what happened. Only that if felt supernatural. Our meal was the stuff of Old Mother Hubbard?s nursery rhyme: cottage cheese, a few cucumber slices, and stale Saltines. But in those simple things and in her stories, she shared so much more with me. She shared hope. She shared her deep faith. She shared some heaping portion of love untangled enough from sappy consumer sheen to show up in the vulnerable press of an actual person?s flesh and bone.
I was no angel suddenly appearing. Ellen was no young maiden. But there was a holy annunciation: Christ was born in us that night. Love showed up in flesh to heal.? It wasn?t enough to fix the whole world. But it was enough to set one little corner of it right for just that one night.
Advent ? this season before Christmas ? is the dance between two songs. The first song cries out, ?Restore us, O God!? like the lines from Psalm 80 we used to drum at the beginning. Or, sung a different way, ?Come now, God. We can?t get much more effed up.? ?The other song praises, ?Arise, shine; for your light has come? (Psalm 60). Or, in more contemporary words, ?Holy sh*t! and Hallelujah! True love just happened here.?
For some of us, it?s in an angel flaring suddenly at our elbow. For others, it comes in the flesh of another human being at just the right time offering love. God comes. God has come. And we need God to come again. As we long for a different kind of world, a world in which the Love, Joy, Peace, and Hope we sing about at Christmas more often show up — and stuck around — may these people in Luke?s story be our companions, helping us? even here, even this week, see God show up.
In Carne: Turn in the direction of the place of your birth and register your hope. For what to you deeply hope this Christmas? Feel free to write it for yourself. Or post below.