Thursday, December 26, 2019


We hear the Christmas story as a lovely fairy tale.
But that isn’t how the Bible tells it. 
The fairy tale is a feel good experience.
But we need more than that -- a lot more.
And that's what we find in the Bible,
     read in its historical context.

For starters, when the people of Nazareth looked at Mary,
     through the cynical, judging eyes of the world,
they didn’t see the Ever Blessed Virgin. 
They saw an unwed mother.
They did not say Hail Mary full of grace.
They said far less pleasant things. 

In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus tells us the names
he was called when he was growing up.
Those names did not reflect on his mother
in  kind way.
But St. Luke looked at Mary through the eyes of faith 
     and saw the Theotokos, the Mother of God.

People didn’t see Joseph as a leading citizen either.
A carpenter back then wasn’t a skilled craftsman 
         like today.
It was unskilled manual labor.
When Jesus began teaching, 
     people threw his father in his face.
Is not this the son of the carpenter? they sneered.
But through the eyes of faith, Matthew, 
saw Joseph, as the saint who listened 
to his dream angel and accepted the disgraced girl  
                God loved and chose.
The world teaches us we are not good enough,
     but the eyes of faith see things differently. 

Galilee was not the holy land back then. 
The fact that Jesus grew up in Galilee was reason enough
for many to reject him.
No prophet comes from Galilee, the Pharisees said. 
Can anything good come out of Nazareth? 
       Nathaniel asked. 
But faithful Matthew quoted an obscure passage 
      from Isaiah,
     Galilee of the Gentiles
     The people living in darkness
     have seen a great light. 

God choose Galilee, that place of darkness,
 as home of our Savior
     precisely because the world looked down on it.
The stable in Bethlehem was not only the least 
     hygienic place you could find for a birth,
it was ritually unclean, dishonorable. 
But centuries later, St. Francis, 
     seeing it through the eyes of faith, 
     regarded that stable as a shrine,
     made holy by its very earthiness, its humility. 
Francis built the first crèche as a holy object
     for us to venerate on the Feast of the Nativity. 

The Shepherds were a questionable lot too.
Their job made ritual purity impossible. 
Priests would not allow shepherds in the Temple.
But the Holy Family welcomed them into the stable.
The shepherds appeared quite different 
     in the eyes of angels 
     from the eyes of the world.
The angels chose the impure shepherds 
        to hear the first Gloria
and to be the first to worship Our Lord. 

The Nativity happens whenever the rejected is embraced,
     when the one the village called vile names 
     is seen through faith as a holy virgin,
     and the smelly stable is revered as a shrine.
The world divides us into in-groups and out-groups,
     acceptable and unacceptable.
In that system, no one is safe.
Even if we are in favor today,
     we may be cast aside tomorrow.

But God doesn’t work that way. 
With Christ’s incarnation as the illegitimate child
     of a poor couple from the backwater of Galilee
     God broke open the worldly system 
of in and out, admired and despised 
     --  the system that keeps the oppressed down 
     and the privileged perpetually nervous.

Theologian Virgilio Elizondo 
      was  the son of Mexican immigrants in San Antonio.
As a young man he attended pastorelas, 
miracle plays, about saints.  
He recalls
     . . . (T)he costumes (always) appeared very shabby.
     I (wanted) to give the people some money     
     so they could buy finer materials for the costumes.
     Eventually I learned that . . . (miracle play costumes)
may be made only from discarded materials
     (because) in the Incarnation the rejected of the world
                 are chosen and beautified.

Jesus said, the stone that the builders rejected 
                 has become the cornerstone.
St. Paul wrote,
     God has called not . . . .  the powerful,
     not the important of society, but the insignificant,
                 the weak, and the despised.
Elizondo sums it up:
     What the world rejects, God chooses as his own.
God chose Mary, Joseph, and Shepherds.
God chose Galilee.

God’s peculiar taste, God’s preference
        for the so-called losers of life,
        matters for us in two ways:

First, if God cherishes what the world scorns,
that changes how we value each other.
To be on God’s side, we befriend the outcast
     whether they are cast out on grounds of race, class,
                 moral judgments, or legal status.

But – here’s the second way the Incarnation matters –
we can’t do that for others until we find God’s grace
     acting in ourselves and in our own lives.
We start by seeing ourselves through God’s eyes 
       – not the world’s.

So, how’s your life tonight?
What kind of judgments are you laboring under?
Is everyone in your family gatherings
     just heart-warmed to be together?
Are you having a Bing Crosby /Andy Williams/ 
            Hallmark Christmas?
Do you have parties for hosting, 
      marsh mellows for roasting,
     and caroling out in the snow?
Or, if you are Gen X, 
       perhaps a Legendary Christmas like John and Crissy?
If so, great. If not, well neither did Jesus. 

How does your life seem to you?
It’s all in how you look at it.
Are you looking at yourself
     through the cynical, judging eyes of the world?
Or are you looking at yourself
     through the eyes of faith,
     eyes that see yourself as the beloved of God,
     eyes that see angels who sing for you,
     eyes that see your life as full of grace.

Is your life spruced up and polished like Herod’s Palace
or does it feel a bit like the stable? 
The parts of our lives that don’t measure up
     are the ones to touch God’s heart.
What is it about ourselves we have been taught to hate?
Are we the wrong height, the wrong weight, 
         the wrong gender?
Is it our voice, our mannerisms, our ineptitude 
        at this or that?

Maybe these things are faults in the word’s eyes,
     but not God’s.
Zephaniah says,  
The Lord has torn up the judgments against you. . . .
He will rejoice over you with happy song . . . .
He will dance with shouts of joy over you.
Yes, that means you – as you are tonight.
In God’s eyes, we are already a delight.
God has ruled. That is the good news we call gospel.
God has ruled that we are his beloved.
He gets to do that because he’s God.

Joy to the World isn’t just about what happened 
       long, long ago.
It’s about what started long, long ago 
     and is happening now in your life today. 
This Christmas, take a leap of faith
that any shame you carry
     is the world’s judgment – not God’s.

Paul said, If God is for us, who can be against us?
     . . . If God declares us justified, who can condemn us?
This holy season invites you to open the eyes of your faith 
to see that you are the Christmas miracle. 
Your life is the gospel.

Then resting in that faith, 
     offer a little love to somebody else 
– someone outside the circle –
show some kindness to a stranger –
     find a virtue in someone you don’t like,
     and wish them well for the sake of that virtue.

To truly celebrate the Nativity,
practice the holy paradox 
of accepting the unacceptable,
     starting with the unacceptable in yourself,
     and the dark sky around you will lighten faintly
     in the East until the morning star rises  in your soul.