Saturday, December 24, 2005

Understanding the Christmas Story

The story of the birth of Jesus really is not about buying gifts. It is not about consuming. It is far from shopping malls or the latest electronic device. It has nothing to do with diamond rings or new cars all wrapped up in giant red bows.

My apologies to Madison Avenue.

Rather, it is a story of a very unlikely young couple, a very, very poor young couple.

A young couple facing hard questions they could not answer to anyone's satisfaction.

Questions like, "Why was Mary pregnant in the first place?" Questions a number of my teenage friends have had to try to answer.

The story of the birth of Jesus is a story about a family so poor it couldn't afford a room.

I know, I know. "There was no room in the inn."

But, we all know how that works in reality. If Joseph had had a few more bucks in his pocket, the innkeeper could have found a room.

The family of Jesus was a very poor family.

On his eighth day on earth, his parents offered the sacrifice of dedication reserved for the poor in the land--two pigeons or turtledoves. They couldn't anywhere near afford a lamb. Probably begged for the money to buy the birds!

If you are a Christian anywhere near orthodoxy, you are forced to face the fact that the Son of God was born a pauper.

Had he been born today in Dallas, Texas, he would have called a dingy South Dallas "flophouse" or a downtown homeless shelter "home. "

Deal with that fact for a moment.

The deity behind the Christmas story turns out to be an upside-down sort of God. Either a God with a very strange sense of humor, or one with a very powerful and unexpected point to make from the get go!

One of the most amazing things about his birth is revealed several months prior to the blessed event.

His expectant mother sings a song to her cousin, Elizabeth. This song, often tagged "the Magnificant," tells it all.

Listen in on part of the lyric:

"My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God
my Savior. . . .

He has shown strength with
his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the
thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the
powerful from their
and lifted up the lowly;

He has filled the hungry with
good things,
and sent the rich away empty." (Luke 1:46-47, 51-53)

Read those words one more time and consider them carefully.

Christmas is about a poor, a dirt poor, Messiah who comes to liberate and give hope to the oppressed, the shut out, the impoverished and the kicked aside--the people who make most of us very, very uncomfortable.

You know, the folks who never quite make it to the malls. Or, if they do, they are the ones who look very out of place, empty-handed and trailed by store security.

Most churches don't get the Messiah, not really. In spite of their elaborate Christmas pageants and midnight candlelight piety, they don't really get the point.

Poor folks understand the story really well.

The Christmas story tells us that God came as a person with nothing, for people who had nothing but faith.

My Christmas prayer is that the people who claim his name will at last buy his values.