As the story goes, it’s all about a baby boy, born to a young couple on a journey by foot, a young carpenter and his teenage wife, a working class quite ordinary couple whose hour came inconveniently when the inn was filled to capacity. Born in a stable, perhaps the parking lot of the inn, where guests parked and fed their donkeys; and laid in a feeding trough for a cradle.
What a humble beginning for a new life. Probably dark and cold, maybe noisy with all the street clatter of so many travelers all mandated there for the census, and the constant hee-hawing and the smell of the donkeys. A couple probably feeling alone and afraid, when lowly smelly shepherds appeared looking in on them. “We were watching our sheep in the fields, and an angel appeared to us,” one explained. “The angel told us not to be afraid, that he was there to bring us good news – that the Messiah was born tonight right here, and we would find him lying in a feeding trough.” The shepherds bowed in awe, and the couple pondered in their hearts this strange visit.
A week later, as was the custom, the couple took the new baby to the temple to be circumcised and dedicated to God. There was an old man in the temple named Simeon, righteous and devout, who, upon taking the baby in his arms, prayed a thank you prayer to God: “Now I can die in peace, for I have held in my arms the light and salvation of Israel and all people.” The couple returned home, wondering silently at these words.
Back at home life likely became consumed with the day to day happenings of any young family – feedings, diapers, first words, first steps, maybe another baby on the way . . . but when the child was maybe two years old, another unusual group of visitors showed up at the house, bearing expensive gifts for the child. Astronomers who traveled by camel from foreign lands, who had seen a bright new star and followed it there to see him whom they called the new king, the long awaited Messiah.
The Jewish people for centuries had been watching for their Messiah, one who would save them from their oppression. Was this Jesus the one? The Christian faith was born on this premise, and Jesus the Christ is its entire foundation. (“Christ” is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah,” both meaning “anointed one.”)
Jesus grew to be a radical Jewish teacher, the leader of a new movement with many followers. He gave sight to blind people, healed the sick, turned water into wine, and raised the dead. He respected women, ate with tax collectors, and cared for lepers. He taught about loving one’s enemies, about seeing even Samaritans as one’s neighbors, about not judging anyone but oneself, and about love taking precedence over the religious laws. He taught to care for the poor, to welcome the foreigner, and to treat every human being as one would like others to treat him/her.
This is the Jesus of Christian Scripture, of the Christian faith, of Christmas. Will you celebrate him with me – this radical Middle Easterner whose life and teachings have changed the entire world even to centuries? Yes, with cultural traditions of trees and gifts and children on Santa’s lap – for those can bring joy. But mostly, can we visit the Christ, the one for whose birth the holy day was begun?
But let us be warned, you and me. Should we really see him, we will be forever changed, for to truly see the baby in the manger is to see the Love and Light of God. Jesus said when we feed the hungry, we feed him. When we clothe the naked, we clothe him. When we visit the prisoner, when we welcome the stranger, when we care for those who can give us nothing in return, we do these things unto him. And this, my friends, is Christ-mass.
He who loves is born of God and knows God. (1 John 4:7)
By this will all know that you are my disciples - that you have love one for another. (John 13:35)