Think about it. This was no auspicious beginning to a would be Messiah’s career. Born in a stable, surrounded by filth. Cows, oxen and sheep all around him. Shepherds who were considered “unclean” his welcoming committee. His mother, a nice Jewish girl, would have been mortified, his father ashamed of himself for being such a bad provider. Yet, that’s not the picture we see in our Christmas cards. Despite the cow, the oxen and the sheep, we picture the scene at the stable as a beautiful setting filled with nicely dressed people with perfect smiles and a choir of angels singing right outside. The woman who just gave birth is shown lovingly kneeling beside her boy. Can we accept that God’s intention was to embrace all of creation in all its messiness—including all of us?
During the holidays we are surrounded with pictures of perfect families with well behaved children and loving spouses—beautiful images of tinseled trees—golden brown turkeys followed by scrumptious pies. The picture leaves folks who don’t fit into it feeling “less than.” But that is a very narrow view of a world in which people come not only in an amazing array of shapes and colors, following many forms of dress and customs, and also with endless variations of relational ties and, sadly, some with none at all. This world into which Christmas children are born still longs for peace and enough food for all.
Ours is a messy world of imperfect people. Thank goodness for that. Muddled, flawed, striving people are far more interesting than allegedly perfect folk. They are also more likely to realize how much we need one another. The Christmas story is the tale of a family in need. It is the tale of people, rich and poor, who come to provide support and companionship. It is also the story of others who attempt to do them harm. It is a story about fear and hope, courage and love.
Lots of us could use a Christmas without stress, without spending beyond our means, without… well, perfection. As a people, we have struggled with tough issues this year from a bad economy to terrible storms. But we have kept on keeping on, sometimes with the help of others, sometimes all on our own. It’ll be good to pause, to enjoy each other’s company, to listen to the songs of the season and even to sing along. May it fill us with peace and deep joy.
It is a silent night in deserts where families flee wars, poverty and hunger. May the Star of Bethlehem light their paths.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.