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Fourth Sunday of Advent 2010

2010 December 19
by Julie Clawson

I was listening to Christmas carols the other day and one of them was asking Jesus for forgiveness for letting him be born in a manger and for being crucified. The song’s excuse was, “we didn’t know who you were.” The implication there is if we had known it was God we were doing those things to we wouldn’t have done them. I had to laugh out loud at how utterly the message of that song ignores not just the revolutionary message of Jesus, but also the unexpected subversive nature of his birth.

Jesus was not born to the elite or the powerful. He was born to an oppressed people suffering under the taxation of empire. His family was lower class. He was born in the muck and mire of a stable and laid to sleep in a feeding trough. A hero might have humble origins, but not this humble. God showed up unexpectedly (for some at least) amongst the poor. While the words Mary uttered rejoicing in the social reversal that the birth of her son inaugurates, there are still those who struggle with God showing preference to the poor.

And so they write songs saying that if they would have know it was God being born in that manger then they wouldn’t have let it happen. That sort of thing is okay for some backwater girl with a suspicious pregnancy, but apparently not for God.

Maybe we need to get past the sweet baby Jesus and listen to the words of the adult Jesus telling us that whatever we do to the least of these we do to him. It is true – a manger isn’t good enough for God. But therefore then it isn’t good enough for any of God’s children. The poor shouldn’t be left to suffer or merely survive on the leftovers and stable corners the world generally allows them to have. If we are angry about Jesus having to be born in the dingy conditions of a stable – unwanted and rejected by society, then we have better be just as upset by the fact that babies all over the world are born in similar (or worse) conditions every day. Some 20,000 women get sick from childbirth everyday – mostly from unsanitary birthing conditions and lack of access to clean water and medicine. They too are Jesus. How we treat them is how we treat Jesus.

It was unexpected when God showed up amongst the poor in that stable in Bethlehem. But what is really unexpected for most Christians today is that God continually shows up amongst the poorest of the poor all over the world today. Responding to the advent of our Lord shouldn’t end with playing with plastic nativity sets as if the unsettling reality of the event has been thoroughly domesticated. Hearing about the unexpected breaking in of God into humble conditions should not numb our souls but instead open our eyes to seeing all the places God shows up – even the unsettling and the horrifying – for God is already there.


5 Responses leave one →
  1. Laurel permalink
    December 19, 2010

    very beautiful Julie….

  2. Laurel permalink
    December 19, 2010

    By the way…I preach on the 26th in town. That Sunday is Matthew 2 and the suffering of the innocent. Would you mind if I used some of this and quoted you.~

  3. December 19, 2010

    Sure – that would be fine.

  4. December 19, 2010

    Sweet little Jesus boy?

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