For many of us Christmas is a season of sadness. The shadows grow long and the streets darken earlier. It is often damp and chilled. Mulled wine, bourbon, hot cakes, none seems to bring joy. We are hurt and the family that we long for seems somehow removed, inaccessible, we just want companionship and to be cared about. For some of us Christmas can be a solitary time filled with poignant sadness.
Think of it. A man and a woman live in poverty and are in that town homeless and without resources. There is no medical care, little food if any. They have traveled oh so long and they are tired. The man and the woman carry a great secret that no one will listen to let alone believe. Why it is hard to believe it themselves, “how can it be” they ask each other. The shadows grow long the night is deep and they are perhaps filled with fear if not sadness. She is expecting a baby at any time and they have nothing. The secret is with them and no one will listen.
The “Joy to the World” enters in just such a place. Dark, without help or resources, not surrounded by family but rather barn animals and a few low class no class working folk. The very first community of Christ earned little money and lived on the land. The parents of Yeshua (ישוע) were poor and by many standards marginalized. Just a few gathered and in time some very strange men, perhaps kings, or astronomers, scientists if you will, came to visit and brought rich gifts fit for a King, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Perhaps Mary and Joseph received them well yet, what good was incense and spices when you are hungry, poor, and indeed hunted by the establishment?
It is the “incarnation”! It is the coming of God into humanity and such a place to find God’s center! A baby is born into poverty, in a class despised by some, rejected by many, and hiding from the fear of certain death by the establishment. It is the “incarnation” this is the God that we Christians worship. So long ago yet the story still rings out today. We often forget the humble beginnings of the one called Emmanuel (God is with us) and it is lost in great churches, great choirs, great vestments, lovely candles and good food and abundant gift giving. It is the “incarnation” God becoming one of us; just another person in a complex world.
Given this perspective is the incarnation lost on us? Is the incarnation real? How can it be so when so much in the world seems dark? Hurt is a powerful thing. Is the incarnation real?
Even in our darkness the answer is unquestionably, YES! It is very real. It can, when invited so to do, overcome hurt and darkness and marginalization. It can be quiet and subtle it can be loud and boisterous! The incarnation is real. It finds its very center in so many people today and like that first night of the incarnation it often goes unnoticed or is despised.
Recently, The Bears Club and associates, a bar tender at The Phoenix, John Paul’s Bar, good people in the LGBT community too many to name or number looked for a purpose to give. Anna’s Arts for Children received over 200 gifts for kids; bright shinny new and ready to be played with. I sat with Mike, a friend, who told me about a certain “church” that when finding out toys were coming from a gay group refused them. That kind of hurt is monstrous and hateful it did not start in a barn on a cold winter’s night surrounded by shepherds. That behavior started in a dark place of haughty self-righteousness!
A certain wealthy church with a grand gesture sent some packages to St. Anna’s and with some self pride said it was clothing and toys for the children in our neighborhood. It was old and used clothing it was broken and used toys. Together the LBGT community and St. Anna’s sometime sit side by side in a barn, marginalized, despised by some, low class no class folk.
The joy and expectancy that the Bears and others shared with us when delivering the toys is/was enough to put a smile on any caring persons face. The sadness is that they neither expect nor get the emotional pay off of giving the toys to the children. “We have been too hurt too often to take that risk.” Take heart because as a priest I will say without hesitation – this community – this community within a community reflects the incarnation; God dwelling among us in ways that glorify the birth of Jesus. It may be dark and cold and seem unforgiving, but that is how Jesus came into the world and this community is right there with him. God bless us everyone! Thank you for being the incarnation of Christ Jesus to us, to St. Anna’s, to the children of Treme, to show us how to care. Please do not be afraid, come and pray and be loved with us. We stand at the entrance of a barn we folk that are not so much and we are the light in a cold winter’s night.