It is sometimes amazing how the Holy Spirit can speak so loudly through a memory or a stray comment. We’re all familiar with the Christmas story – man and very pregnant young virgin woman going to his hometown because of a Roman census. The town is swollen with people and there’s no place for them to stay, but one innkeeper offers the use of his stable for their stay. She delivers her firstborn son who she names Ye’hoshua, meaning “God saves.” (Jesus is the Greek version of this Hebrew name.) We know about the shepherds out in the fields, angels telling them the good news of the birth of a Savior and their enthusiastic response. We know of non-Jewish magi, men who read something new and different in the night sky and responded to this heavenly message. After year upon year, Advent after Advent, the story risks getting old and stale, or, worse, subjugated under an avalanche of pre-Christmas sales, buying sprees and credit card debt trying to buy some Christmas peace.
Every now and then, though, the story gets shaken up in a way that allows us to see it in new ways through different lenses, and once more we remember, embrace and empathize with the characters, rejoicing with the angels and celebrating with the simple, dirty, ecstatic shepherds.
In her book Feminist Theory and Christian Theology, Serene Jones recounts the story of a Christmas pageant at the community church she attends. Various members from the congregation were invited to participate. Jones tells how Reggie, the homeless man who often slept on the steps of the church, played the part of the innkeeper. Joseph and Mary walked down the aisle (with a live donkey) toward the innkeeper and Joseph says, “We need a place to stay.”
The innkeeper opens the door and says, “Come on in!”
Believing that Reggie had forgotten his line, “Joseph” repeats, “We need a place to stay.”
Reggie says, “I heard ya. Come on in!” The homeless man was not going to turn away anyone in need.
I saw half of a news article on the back of something my mom had sent my daughter (you can read the whole article here) about male inmates in a Wayne County (NC) prison enacting the Christmas story. The director of this production is a lifer, in for murder. Joseph was played by a man serving time for breaking and entering. The audience would be small, made up of other inmates – some Christian, a Messianic Jew, Muslims, mostly atheist, some very hard-hearted. The article tells how the director wrote this play eight years ago, thirty years into his life sentence. What’s the point? It’s a display of caring. We don’t often think of convicts proclaiming, “The Savior is born for you!” A small number of inmates strive to warm cold hearts, share the good news of the birth of a Savior who came even for them, or, at the very least, elicit a chuckle from men who seldom even smile. The Christmas story becomes a story of reconciliation between God and sinful humanity.
These two examples show how, when the “most of us” are running around frantically blowing wads of money on the latest gadgets and toys to give to people, the Christmas story starts with “the least of these.” Dirty, stinky shepherds. Homeless men (“I was homeless, and you gave me a place to stay.”). Murderers, robbers and drunks (“I was in prison, and you visited me.”).
As we enter 2012, may our hearts be constantly open to the speaking of the Holy Spirit, even as her voice so often comes to us through the “least of these.”
- What Happened to the Christmas Story? (kymypossible.com)
- parenting & scripture: christmastide (motheringspirit.wordpress.com)
- Was the Manger just a Shelter? (hungrythirstystranger.wordpress.com)
- Where do you fit in the Christmas story? (rogerhovis.wordpress.com)