We watched ABC’s Light Fight the other night. The host and judge, Michael Moloney (of Extreme Homemaker fame), exclaimed to the winner that their nativity scene was just so calm and peaceful, an embodiment of the meaning of the season. Calm and peaceful.
The words have lingered as I’ve wrestled with the Christmas story this year. Other words, spoken by our Pastor, pierced and illuminated my meandering thoughts: the violence of the Christmas story.
Violence of the Christmas story.
2014 is being remembered and there is much to grieve. ISIS has displaced thousands. Boko Haram lurks in the Nigerian forests, with over 200 girls still missing, most believed to have been sold off as sex slaves. Ebola ravaged West Africa claiming over 7000 lives. The Taliban ruthlessly took the lives of innocent children in Pakistan this month. Racism still festers and oozes from America’s untended wounds. We live in a brutal and violent world.
When I hear “Silent Night” and recall my family acting in the Live Nativity, brother and sister forced to touch and be tender in their roles as Mary and Joseph, I have a sense of incongruence. How to make sense of “calm and peaceful” in a violent world without feeling foolish.
Because the gospel is foolish.
But I’ve been thinking. Was it, calm? Peaceful? Israel was an occupied territory. A military state. The census was a thoughtless and vicious ruling, forcing families to divide and traverse treacherous terrain. Would the travelers have been met with welcoming parties along the way or harassment, bribes, and racist comments? How long did it take Mary and Joseph to make their way from Nazareth to Bethlehem, on complete opposite ends of the country?
They arrived to an overcrowded town. And were the townspeople generous and prepared for such an influx of internally displaced persons? Is any town? Shame engulfed the Savior’s birth, among animals and with a man to deliver. Not the community of women who would tend to the mother, hold her up, wipe her brow, coach her through each contraction, guide the baby’s head, as they had done for each other for centuries.
A carpenter’s hands caught baby Jesus.
And there would be no rest, for Herod had ordered a genocide - a mass slaughter of all baby boys under the age of two. So the travelers flee, again crossing rocky terrain, as refugees in a foreign land their people had once fled, full of confusion and fear.
Violence of the Christmas story.
But suddenly, in my mind, Jesus is with the Nigerian girls in the jungles. He is there with the dying in Liberia. He was with Michael Brown, and again in the courtroom of the Grand Jury. He is crouched beneath desks with terrified Pakistani children and gathering potatoes with Iraqi refugee kids who should be in school.
For into the violence he came. Into humanity, the mess that we are, he came to proclaim another way. To herald peace in a war-torn world. To gather a people who has been displaced. To heal the sick and bring rest to the weary. He was born into shame, amid a fearful and ruled people, among racism and brutality. For us.
Emmanuel. God with us. Far from calm and peaceful.
Understanding the violence of the Christmas story gives me a fuller picture of Jesus. The gospel doesn't seem so foolish. Crazy, yes. But refreshing.
Like the only hope we could possibly have.