I admit it – I like the image of a sweet, magical Christmas with a beautiful Mary, handsome Joseph, and cooing baby Jesus as much as anybody. And yet, if that’s the only concept we’re willing to entertain, we have totally missed Christmas. Christmas is gritty. It’s about a couple of newlyweds not so sure they aren’t nuts. After all, they claimed that angels told them it was A-OK with God for them to buck some pretty important small town and religious norms. And to boot that this surprise baby was the long-awaited Messiah. Well how could that be? They were striving hard-working middle-class people of the day – nobody special. On top of that, to satisfy the Roman government’s taxation record-keeping demands, they had to make a 90 mile journey to Bethlehem on foot on a winding dangerous path through rugged hills. Mary was almost nine months pregnant. I’m not sure the donkey ride was much better than walking – maybe worse! Not fun. Not luxurious. Not anybody’s idea of how God should operate. You would think God could’ve at least provided a cart.
Because everybody else was also in Bethlehem due to the government’s edict (thank you very much – not!), they had to stay in a stable. There as we well know, the baby Jesus, this enlightened and delightful child, was born. OK, yes stables can be warm and the animals are often comforting presences. However, a stable smells pretty strong – and unless somebody has mucked it out recently, it is none too clean. And birth is a bloody, messy, uncomfortable biological process. Then a bunch of shepherds appeared. Nice guys indeed, but face it, they had been living outdoors for months and were shall we say somewhat rumpled and ripe, and accompanied by their smelly sheep no less.
Several weeks after this, three surprisingly elegant visitors appeared – astrologer-astronomers, foreigners from east of Israel. They were well dressed in silks and furs, but a bit of an odd bunch, going on and on about following a star. What were Mary and Joseph to make of them and what to do with their rich gifts and the praise heaped upon their tiny son? Then the last straw. Joseph had another angel visit – this time to tell him King Herod was looking for them, seeking to kill the baby. So off they go, baby in tow, to Egypt – refugees for several years.
Where’s the sweet magic in this rough and strange story? It’s certainly not in the environment or even in the norm breaking actions of the people. The sweet magic is in what stirred each person to action, in what is moving the plot. Each one goes forward because God told them to. And they were tuned in just enough to feel that Divine nudge. Each of them was initially full of fear, skepticism, and questions, yet they had the bit of trust sufficient to keep them tuned in.
This year don’t look for sweet Christmas magic in the decorations and gifts, as beautiful as they are. Enjoy them, yes, but know there is no magic there. Instead look for it where you will always find it alive and well – inside of you. Your sweet Christmas magic is in the quiet powerful nudges that keep you moving steadily into your enlightened and delightful self. It is there the Christ is born.
In the Love and Light of Christmas,