We celebrate the birth of Christ near to the darkest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. The light of the world shining in the darkness. This year, for many, the celebration will be either changed, muted, or nearly non-existent.
How we celebrate this year will be determined a great deal by how we, or members of our family, have responded to the pandemic that has already made “2020” a byword.
If the world was confusing and disordered in 2019, then we may need a new vocabulary for 2020. Early conflicting and confusing information concerning reaction to the pandemic caused one set of problems. The political structure of our nation being 50 states and the various responses causing another. The policies that have favored one type of business (or size) over another have had catastrophic impact on so many of our friends and neighbors while enriching others.
Families are being stressed by taking in information from differently skewed news sources talking past each other because there is no common base or language it seems. Churches suing the state and winning (seems both appropriate and somehow wrong to me). Accusations flying. A contentious election. Our world has been turned upside-down this year.
And yet... here we are at Christmas. It is likely to be more emotional than most. Some of us are deeply hurt because we have lost loved ones to COVID, or to the impacts caused by the response. Others are scoffing that it is fake or “not that bad.” Yet others are angry at the response which has kept them away from family members in hospitals, or care facilities (which creates its own set of issues.)
But remember...this is Christmas. This is the time of year we remember that God became one of us. He entered the mess. He walked the earth. His arrival prompted an infanticide in the region of Bethlehem. His life began on the run and he grew up in a provincial town of little importance. He entered a world in which people were one bad harvest away from starvation.
He walked with people who had lost family members to diseases which they did not understand. He touched people others were afraid to touch. It was a world turned upside-down by disease, ethnic violence, fear, and greed. Sound familiar?
What is more, he fully identified with a group of people that were considered unimportant and troublesome. They were called stiff-necked early and often. I have heard of people who claim to be Christian who want nothing to do with church because they have been hurt by it or because it is full of hypocrites or just isn’t friendly. To which, on a grumpy day, I might reply, “Good thing Jesus didn’t feel that way.”
In Matthew’s account he showed up, with the people, to be baptized by John’s baptism of repentance. Most Christians are of the opinion (I believe the right one) that Jesus didn’t need to be because he had no sin. Then why? It was more than example — he was fully identifying with a people that needed to repent and so he needed to be baptized.
Truth is, the world has been upside-down since the serpent convinced Adam and Eve to eat forbidden fruit and Cain murdered his brother Abel. We have, from that day to this, chased the next shiny thing and taken out (by sword or law or doctrine) those who get in our way of such pursuits.
After Jesus is introduced in Matthew 1-4, he ascends a hill and sits down to speak. What he says at the beginning of that famous sermon has the power to put the world back the way it was intended.
These verses are from a king that will create a world in which I want to live. I can speak from personal experience that they do not always produce happiness. They do however produce a different view of the world and moments of surprising unspeakable joy. I have taken liberty with translation here to better reflect its meaning. If acted upon they will turn the world upside-down — check that; rightside-up. From Matthew 5:3-11:
Honored are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Honored are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Honored are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Honored are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Honored are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Honored are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Honored are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Honored are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Honored are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.