December 8, 2008

The Christmas Nativity

I recently received my first official Christmas card and it got me thinking about the Christmas season and the cards that we regularly share with family and friends. One of the most popular pictures used on Christmas cards is of the nativity.

Though the above is a nice picture, it does seem to imply a message of safety and security. It’s as if the primary Christmas message that we want to portray is one that has been sanitized so that it is clean, perfectly in place and almost middle class…

Nothing could be further from the reality of that moment. The political context was one of occupation by a foreign power. The despotic leader was known for his violence and cunning cruelty as well as vast building projects that altered the religious and moral landscape through the construction of Roman temples and Roman cultural vignettes. Mary had experienced an out of wedlock teenage pregnancy and Joseph understood the pain of broken trust and an imperfect strained relationship. Both had travelled 90 miles by foot or donkey in the ninth month of a pregnancy and were now separated from family, friends and familiarity. Though they did not know it, they were on the verge of becoming refugees. Surely an out of the way cave surrounded by animals and manure was far from their childhood dreams.

And yet it is in this context that Good News was declared. In the midst of muck, mire and even personal manure, Christ was born. In the midst of broken dreams, strained relationships and a journey of great uncertainty, Christ was born. In the midst of violence and politics by war, domination and division, Christ was born. Embodying a love that has changed the world, a peace that challenges politics, and a ministry that focuses on Good News among “the least of these," Christ was born.

In the words of Shane Claiborne:

“I love the story of one pastor who got fed up with all the decorations and clutter. He began to see that we are in danger of losing the very “reason for the season,” Jesus – the Jesus that was born in the middle of Herod’s bloody genocide, the Jesus who was born a refugee with no room in the inn, the Jesus who knew suffering from the cradle to the cross. This pastor went through the sanctuary the night before the big Christmas service and spread out manure all over the floor – nasty, stinky piles of turd. As folks came in the next day in their best attire, he preached … and did he ever. He preached about how the original story of Christmas was not about malls and decorations. He preached about a story that was not pretty. He preached about a God who enters the [crud] of this world and redeems all that is ugly and broken. It is a story they will never forget. It is the story of our faith.

That is the imagination that we need as we seek not to conform to the patterns of this world. It takes that kind of courage to exorcize the demons of greed that smell more each day like the seven deadly sins. But unto us a child is born … a child who has overcome the world.” (

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