A Holiday for the Suffering: Today’s Nativity
At the heart of the Christmas story is a story of God’s total embodiment into suffering. God was not born into grandeur and palaces, but to an unwed teenage mother sleeping in a stable and fleeing a murderous king. Christmas, at its core, is a holiday for the suffering.
No Place For Them
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
A bunch of my friends and I did Thanksgiving together this year, since most of us weren’t going home. I told my parents I couldn’t afford to travel, but really… it’s more that my real family is here. Not in some far off land where I grew up, but here, where I finally feel like there’s a place for me.
I’m still not sure if I’m going home for Christmas.
Marcus is going home, but his partner can’t come. Which is fine, you know. They’ve only been together four years. Dan only proposed two years ago. They got married last year, but Dan’s not welcome, and Marcus wants to see his nieces, and … yeah. So he’ll go home, and sleep in his old twin bed, and only call Dan when he’s out of the house picking up groceries or something.
Justin’s welcome to go home… as long as his parents get to call him Jessica, and as long as he won’t wear a binder to mass. He’d stay at a hotel if he could, but like he can afford that when he’s paying out of pocket for hormone treatments. He’s not even sure they’d give him a room; his new driver’s license hasn’t come yet.
In high school they made us read this poem that says “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”
It’d be nice if someone told our families.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Nobody wants the night shift, you know? But it sure makes the commute easier. I live thirty miles from where I work, and rush hour means I’m burning through hours on the road I’ll never get paid for. I don’t even like this job. But it’s better than nothing, which is what a lot of my family has. Rent still needs to get paid. Bus passes still need to be renewed. Kids still need gifts at Christmas. That’s the thing that scares me most — the kids. Every Christmas I wonder if this is the year they’ll figure out that Santa brings better presents to the other kids at school. We tie the whole thing into how good kids are, but I learned pretty early that the threat of coal was a bigger lie than Mr Claus himself. I had to earn my gifts, all right… by working. Not by acting nice for the Elf on the Shelf. I’m trying to do better by my own kids, but every year they get older and closer to figuring out that life doesn’t get easy just because you work hard. Even if angels were to tear open the sky, what difference would it make? Once the heavenly song is over, someone still needs to pay the rent.
Following Mystery (with thanks to Laura Lou)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to worship him.”
It’s not that I don’t believe any more. It’s that the faith I was raised with doesn’t fully answer all the questions. I was given all these rules, but they cause me doubt and distrust, not faith and hope. I see friends and fellow believers constantly let down by the religion we were raised in. I just … don’t know if what I was taught is the only way to the truth. At this point I’m not sure what the truth is, really, or where, or how to find it.
I wish I had something more concrete, relevant. I wish I had belief. I wish it were simple. I want it to feel like it did when I was a kid, when candles felt like magic and prayers felt like they were heard.
I want to want to believe, I guess.
But it’s not simple, or easy, or concrete. All I’m doing now is following this light, this guiding star that confuses all my family and friends. Why would I give up everything I’ve known, everything I’ve had, everything that’s benefitted me, to travel across the world seeking… I don’t even know what I’m seeking.
But I will follow this light and try to find it. I’ve left behind what I’ve known and rejected, and walked towards this mystery that calls me.
My journey of faith has already taken me far beyond my comfort zone. I ended up in places of glory and splendor, sure I’d find what I was looking for, only to find myself in conflict with those in charge. I’m finding myself drawn instead to places of despair, poverty, the forgotten, the people on the edges of life. You don’t think of finding light in such places… but that’s where the star of my own heart seems to be leading.
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
“Home,” by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i don’t know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here
Falling and Rising
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God. And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
I didn’t plan for this.
I planned for plenty else: after all,
little girls get baby dolls pressed into our arms
before we’re out of diapers,
and we whisper with our best friends
about what we’ll name our children
and what cute clothes we’ll buy for them.
No girl ever plans for this,
for her body turning against her,
for something else making the decisions
and her option is: let go or be dragged.
So you let go of whatever you dreamed of
and you take hold of what you get–
and you never get what you planned.
Sometimes the two lines on the pregnancy test
are a path in the wilderness, leading you to
the weirdo kid, straight from the womb to
fight with every authority figure around him.
Sometimes the two lines are columns of the temple
where your twelve-year-old tells your husband
“you’re not my real father.”
Sometimes the two lines
are the road to the doctor’s office
where you find out it’s another ectopic
and you plan for another procedure
and your body gives up on what you and it so dearly want.
Listen — I didn’t plan for this.
No one plans for this.
And when the day comes, and all the days after,
we don’t speak of it.
We don’t tell you how a sword severs our soul.
When my body loses a baby
I don’t just feel it below the waist.
I’m torn apart everywhere,
every inch of skin scraped raw,
every length of bone broken.
My chest cracks under the weight
of breathing through a broken heart.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through it, and without it not one thing came into being. What has come into being was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The promise of Christmas is not that darkness has ended. The promise of Christmas is this: the darkness is real, but so is the light.