What’s it all about, anyway?

The Birth of Jesus - Luke 2:1-20

JESUS MAFA. The birth of Jesus with shepherds, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.

A number of years ago, there was a popular song that said “What’s it all about, Alfie?” That question seems appropriate at this time of year. What’s it all about, anyway?

I struggle sometimes with what to post…especially now. It’s a time of year when everyone wants to feel good…to enjoy the season.

But not everyone gets to do that.

And I’m not really sure the season is all about making us feel good.

After all, the child whose birth we celebrate came to shake the world up…to turn the existing expectations on their heads.

We’ve tended to sanitize that…to romanticize it. And so when someone posts a picture that makes us uncomfortable, we tend to want to immediately ignore it…or cry “foul!”

But what if we could all step back a minute…perhaps step into our time machines…and think about what was going on then? What would we see?

We would see a young pregnant woman, making a difficult journey with her fiancé to meet the demands of an occupying government. We would find them in the middle of a chaotic situation, desperately trying to find a place to stay…a quiet and at least somewhat secluded place where she could give birth.

We would see shepherds…unclean, unkempt. While the Bible positively acknowledges the shepherding background of some of the more famous individuals, shepherds didn’t have a good reputation generally. They were often considered to be thieves…and at the least were on the low end of society. And yet they were the ones the angels appeared to.

Later we would see magi–students of the heavens–coming and asking about this child, not knowing that their questions would trigger the deaths of innocent children by a frightened king.

We would see a family fleeing across borders, desperately trying to find a safe place to raise their child.

It’s not necessarily a feel-good story.

And so I think that some of the contemporary nativity scenes that we see–the ones that make us really uncomfortable…and maybe even angry…are appropriate for this time of year. They are what the story is all about…questions of dealing with “the other”…desperate families seeking safety for their children…genocide…

It’s not just something that happened approximately 2000 years ago. It happens today.

And the story…ultimately a story of hope for a new world…is all about what it means to live in this world…in this time…and a challenge to us. Who are we in the story? And how will we let it impact us?

What’s it all about anyway?

Holy Family in cages

Under the skin we are one…

Recently we went to a production of a musical I had wanted to see for a number of years. In many ways I’m glad we saw it where we did–it made it much more real.

The show was Cabaret–and the place we saw it was a Jewish community center…which has armed police at the entrance every show because a few years ago, someone decided he was going to try to kill Jews. He ended up killing and wounding several people–only one of whom was Jewish.

So to see a show which takes place in 1931 Germany under those circumstances made it a powerful evening.

But it was powerful in other ways as well. There is a scene where Herr Ludwig–right after we have discovered he is a Nazi–becomes angry when he discovers that Herr Schultz is Jewish. He is adamant that Schultz is not a German.

And Herr Schultz’s innocent naiveté…that nothing will happen because he knows these Germans–because he is one…is so saddening because we know that his German birth and ancestry will end up  meaning nothing.

As I watched the show, I was reminded that we seem to find so many ways to divide ourselves from each other–and yet, under the skin we are one. We all bleed the same color blood. We all want better lives for our children and grandchildren. We all have hopes and fears. We all understand that there is something more powerful than we can understand that has created (and continues to create) this world we live in–regardless of how we identify it.

And yet… There are so many names we call each other. Names that dehumanize and demonize each other. Names that make it possible for us to decide that it’s okay to discriminate against a specific group of people because they are somehow less than our own group.

And I’m tired. I know there are problems that need to be fixed. I know there are policies that need to be developed and changed.

But I’m tired.

I’m especially tired of hearing those words…those dehumanizing, demonizing, separating names…come out of the mouths of those who say they are followers of Jesus. Jesus, who crossed all kinds of barriers…who saw all people as valued brothers and sisters.

All major religions have as a priority some statement that calls us to treat each other as we ourselves want to be treated…an acknowledgment that under the skin we are one. What will it take for us to start living that way?