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Finding the Grace in Christmas

Reflections on Christmas 2004

By Louie Crew

 

Readings for Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 2004
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

 

Christmas is here again, ready or not. As relentlessly as a sunrise or a sunset, we are bidden to trek to Bethlehem one more time expecting the Christ child to make a difference in our world. The harsh realities of the American Empire this season make that hope seem about as far-fetched as it did in the outer reaches of the Roman Empire where the angels sang.

Is it Christmas in Baghdad? Is the night silent and holy for political refugees? Is it Christmas for those living with AIDS or those dying alone and rejected? Is it Christmas for the hungry and the homeless?

Is it Christmas in Baghdad? Is the night silent and holy for political refugees? Is it Christmas for those living with AIDS or those dying alone and rejected? Is it Christmas for the hungry and the homeless?

Absolutely, and for the rest of us Christmas comes primarily as we are in solidarity with those deemed the least among us. That's why God chose to come as the homeless child of a poor uppity and unwed mother. God did not want us to miss Her point.

The deacon in my parish reported to the vestry last night that the children have learned to tell stories that connect them to the birth narrative in the Bible. “One girl cried when she found that she can't play Mary this year,” he reported, “but I encouraged her to try for the part again next year.”

We adults may miss reality important to Luke's narrative when we dress in fancy bathrobes and mistake ourselves for shepherds or magi.

It takes discipline to look at the Luke narrative without tremolo, without sentimentality.   Sometimes we can best do it at a slant, as I tried in imitating the voice of one our neighbors in rural Georgia three decades ago:

 

         The Gospel Truth                          

 

Well, you remember how at Christmas                   

last year the two fairies down our street             

wrote “Bah, Humbug!” on their front door,             

using rhinestones in Olde English script              

(You know how they are!)?                             

Well, I just learned that last week                   

the one who teaches art at the college                

told a group of students at a Christmas party         

that Jesus was born                                   

without benefit of heterosexuality                     

and less than nine months                             

after Mary and Joseph were married!                   

There really ought to be a law                        

against such scandal!                                 

If we don't stop them soon,                           

They'll probably claim                                

Jesus loves them!                                     

 

Theologian Carter Heyward says that “Love without justice is cheap – sentimentality.” Another memory from my Christmases past brings that point home to me:

 

      The Good Ole Days

 

From as far back as I can remember,

    until I reached 12,   

every Thanksgiving and Christmas,

    after he'd delivered groceries

to the people on his part

    of the Sunday School's list,

Dad took me with him

    to see his “unofficial friend.”

 

We drove down an alley

    far behind the foundry,

    to Shorty's,

    bearing four bulging bags

from the local Jitney Jungle.

 

Mrs. Shorty, two heads taller,

    had the shadow of a dark moustache.

Smiling as for a family portrait,

    the Shorties stood stiffly

    under soiled Christmas cards

strung four ways across the room.

 

“They get them from trash cans

    a year ahead of time,

Dad explained to me later,

    “and put them up just

to make us feel welcome.”

 

“That shore is a pretty child,”

    Shorty would say

as he reached to pat my head.

    Dad beamed, and dug

into the paper sacks, proudly.

 

The Shorties had built

    their home of cardboard

tacked to scraps of wood and tin.

     The earth floored them.

 

“Whenever it rains,” Dad continued later,

    I know I'll see Shorty and his wife

plundering behind my Hardware store

    to get the fresh, big boxes.

 

Most dry days Shorty preached

    on the Court House lawn.

 

The summer I was 18, I went back,

    tried to find him there.

Others concatenated the despair,

    preached “jedgement”;

But Mrs. Shorty and Shorty had died.

 

Sweating with the crowd in the Alabama sun

I remembered

    the soiled Christmas cards,

    my tight belt, and waiting for

    the overseasoned turkey to bite back.

 

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you're making other plans.” Christmas is a lot like that. It can break in on us, in spite of distractions such as fake halos, fiberglass angel hair, commercial jingles, bright wrapping paper, mistletoe, even sheep dip.

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you're making other plans.” Christmas is a lot like that. It can break in on us, in spite of distractions such as fake halos, fiberglass angel hair, commercial jingles, bright wrapping paper, mistletoe, even sheep dip. Titus reminds us: The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all (2:11). Isaiah emphasizes, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” (9:2).

There is crying in a stable

     on a cold winter night.

There is crying at the bosom

     of the lonely world.

A small, red baby

     has now seen the light

as the bloody little boy

     of a scared young girl.

 

Joy to the world!

 

Louie Crew is a writer and a well-known collector and disseminator of statistics and little-known facts about the Anglican Communion, which may be found on his website . He is a contributing editor to The Witness and publishes a regular column on “A Globe of Witnesses.” Louie may be reached by email at lcrew@andromeda.rutgers.edu .