[from a guest contributor, Grayson Bain]
The Sunday before Christmas, I was inspired to share some of my philosophical but practical wrestlings about this event called "Christmas". The first Christmas was anything but charming. It is charged with homelessness, hardship, a lack of decent resources, desperate flight as refugees, and even infanticide. He had no power no status and none of the levers of money to affect the outcome of daily events. In the Christmas story we see an ensuing crisis.
Joseph and Mary are swept away from their resources, their family, extended family, and Joseph from his livelihood. They are forced to travel to their ancestral land some 70 miles at a critical time for their family, the 9th month of Mary’s pregnancy. Could you walk 70 miles? And what if you were pregnant? Artists depict Mary on a donkey. I have my doubts. Donkeys were expensive, and it is unlikely that the poor would have such an expensive animal. It may be that Joseph himself pushed Mary in a cart. The poor are caught in schemes others have made.
In August we visited the mud dwelling of a Maasai family, and were invited to share their home overnight in a small mud nook, separated off from the main living area by a curtain. We can easily imagine how if the house were full, the 9-month pregnant Mary would have somehow squeezed in with the goats and calves in the next room. We may sentimentalize the birth of Jesus among animals, but there was nothing cute about it. “Your guests slept with the animals?” I can imagine the utter disgust of the entire Maasai tribe if Grace and I had been told to sleep there! But we have power and money…
In their flight from the murderous soldiers of King Herod, they escape to Egypt. The 700km stretch of desert from Gaza to Alexandria is a hellacious journey. Then they spent the better part of a year or two in Egypt, as refugees. Living in fear, vulnerable and dislocated, living with hunger and without possessions.
Most of us don't know what this poverty is like. Being among the working poor, Jesus was always on the edge of an abyss. The benefits that the middle classes have are unknown to the working poor today, who, because of their part-time status, lack the benefits that cushion them from life’s fluctuations.
So here are two gifts to be sought at Christmas.(and for the rest of the year) That we can more deeply understand how Jesus knows and still loves the dark and dirty places in us. That we can seek out practical gifts of compassion to use toward the care of the poor.