The other day Dana and I were putting our Christmas decorations up and as I unboxed the Nativity set and put all of the characters in place I smiled as I had a thought that I never had before:
Who was NOT present at the scene of Jesus’ birth says just as much if not more than who WAS present at His birth.
First I unwrapped Mary and Joseph who (probably barely teenagers and not yet married) had been on the verge of splitting up just a few verses before Jesus was born.
Next I took out the Shepherds who many scholars say would have been considered outcasts by the larger Jewish community - handling animals all day, touching blood amongst other things ... they wouldn’t have been welcome in very many Jewish gatherings.
Then I found the Magi, the Wise Men, who weren’t even Jewish, but were likely priests or elders of sorts from some other sort of Eastern Religion.
After that I pulled out the animals and then, lastly, the baby Jesus.
And so present at the birth of Jesus we had ...
1 baby who essentially had no rights.
2 teenage unwed parents who had been teetering on breaking up.
A bunch of priests from some non-Jewish religion.
And shepherds covered in God only knows what.
And not present were ...
The Temple Leaders.
I think this is really telling, almost prophetic of the kind of life that Jesus would lead and the kind of people that Jesus would draw to Himself, right? Because all throughout His life Jesus didn’t cater to the powerful, He didn’t rub elbows with the strong, He didn’t take the top students to be His disciples, He didn’t hang around those who had it all together or, at least, thought they had it all together.
Instead, Jesus hung out with the people that the Temple and the Roman Empire pushed to the outskirts of the world - the nobody’s, the has beens, the never-will-be’s ...
The tax collectors.
If you read the Gospels you almost can’t help but see a pattern in the kinds of people that Jesus went to AND drew to Himself - He went to the poor, and the poor came to Him; He went to the demon possessed and the demon possessed came to Him; He went to the sick and the sick came to Him; He went to the tax collectors and the tax collectors came to Him; He went to the prostitutes and the prostitutes came to Him.
The rejected were welcomed.
The outcasts were brought inside.
Those far away were brought close.
Those who spent their lives hearing NO heard a resounding YES.
Those who were knocked down were lifted up.
And it started NOT when Jesus was 30 years old (the approximate time that He began His “earthly ministry”); rather, it started some 30 years before that in a feeding trough as ...
People of other religions.
... Gathered around to be in the presence of the One who had always loved them, and always would.
It was a model, a model for you and me to follow. I love how Richard Rohr puts it in his book “Preparing for Christmas” ...
“The more that we can put together, the more that we can forgive and allow, the more we can include and enjoy, the more we tend to be living in the Spirit. The more we need to reject, oppose, deny, exclude and eliminate, the more open we are to negative and destructive voices and to our own worst instincts. As always, Jesus is our model of healing, outreach, and reconciliation, the ultimate man of the Spirit.”
As Jesus laid in His manager some 2,000 years ago and drew the most unlikely group of people to His bedside, He began to subvert a system of oppression and exclusion that was running rampant through the streets of the Empire. And now, today, in 2018, the call is for you and me to do the same. My prayer for you this week before Christmas is a simple one:
May the Spirit of God fill you today as it did the baby Jesus some 2,000 years ago so much so that today you sense a change in the atmosphere around you as people of all kinds, from all sorts of backgrounds, belief systems and lifestyles, who have made all sorts of mistakes, who wrestle with all sorts of demons are drawn to you because they sense the Divine love and grace and mercy and forgiveness that indwells your being and reflects out of your eyes and every single pore on your skin. And may that same Spirit push you and prod you and lead you to venture into the lives of those same kinds of people who might be repelled by your presence not because they don’t like you or because they’re afraid of you, but because they don’t think they’re worthy to receive what the Divine inside of you has to offer. May you not be afraid to go to them when they don’t come to you and may you not be afraid to receive them fully when they do make their way to you.
Much love and a very Merry Christmas.