“Now at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census of the whole world to be taken… So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and traveled up to Judaea, to the town of David called Bethlehem…in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. While they were there the time came for her to have her child… She wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them at the inn. In the countryside close by there were shepherds…The angel of the Lord appeared to them…the angel said, ‘Do not be afraid. Listen, I bring you news of great joy…Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord…And suddenly with the angel there was a great throng of the heavenly host, praising God and singing ‘Glory to God in the heavens.” (Lk 2: 1-14)
Although most scripture scholars agree that the details of Jesus’ birth are more fancy than fact, it may still be comforting to wrap ourselves in the earthy familiarity of this story. Looking back to the time of Caesar Augustus, Joseph and Mary, the too-crowded inn, a child born in a manger, and looking up to see the “glory of God in the highest” can serve to connect us to the spirituality hidden beneath the materiality which so often characterizes Christmas.
However, if we only look back but not around, up but not down, we run the risk of missing the true meaning of Christmas. The story of Jesus’ birth is nostalgic when understood only as an event in history, but it is radical, as it should be, if we realize we are to give birth to his Spirit here and now. It could be said that divinity is the “D” in our DNA. What we call God and imagine residing in the heavens, is the life-force born and breathing in each of us. The celebration of Jesus’ birth is meant to remind us of the dignity/divinity of humanity, and our call to bring light to the darkness that surrounds us, and peace to the people with whom we interact.
For many, this season of joy is anything but. Experiences of illness, loss, economic hardship, family dysfunction, and other harsh realities can blur the blessedness of Christmas. As we celebrate this sacred season, may we be especially sensitive to those whose bodies, hearts, and souls are broken. For it is in the lost, least, last, and littlest that we come face-to-face with the Divine. When we care for and about those for whom there is no room in the inn of our warm homes or at the table of our full feasts, we encounter and give glory to God in the lowest.