This Christmas has been a struggle for me. This Advent, we missed two out of four Sundays because of snow and vomit, and Christmas Mass we were late for and ended up jammed in like sardines in the back, hearing nothing. It didn't feel very spiritual.
Last night I tried and tried to meditate on the Nativity, and all I could think was, "Angels? Glorias? Virgin birth? Isn't it exactly what someone would make up if they wanted to make a birth legend for someone they looked up to?"
Then I remembered the stable. Who would try to honor someone by making up a story that they were born homeless? For contrast, here is the Buddha's birth story. Jesus was born in a degree of humility that no one would invent for him; likewise, he died a shameful death that no one who loved him would make up.
I can't bring any great wisdom out of this. But it makes me think of how very close Jesus is to us, his people. To the homeless, the foreigner, the poor, the child born out of wedlock, the prisoner, the falsely accused, the victim of capital punishment .... he has a story from his own life that we can all call our own. He really meant what he said when he spoke of preaching good news to the poor, when he said the rich would struggle to enter heaven. Coming from above, he could have entered the world at what we call the top. Instead, he came to the very bottom, so that there would be no one so lowly that he thinks Jesus is too exalted for him to speak to. The soul in danger is the one so exalted that he thinks Jesus is too lowly for him to speak to.
This year I am filled with worries. Guilt for not having more presents under the tree for the kids; disappointment because it is impossible for Christmas ever to match the ideal I create for it. Concern for the year to come; fear because the same paycheck is worth ever less every year as inflation spins out of control. Frustration at going without things to save money; anger at myself for being so materialistic that I mind the loss of a few luxuries.
And yet Jesus is not far from this. When I am told "God has a plan, he never gives you more than he can handle, God will not be outdone in generosity, just watch, he will come through with exactly what you need," I can't help but scoff. People do lose their houses. They roam the streets, beg for crusts. It's not at all unknown in this world that people starve to death, and I imagine many of them are praying for help. I just can't believe that I am somehow miraculously exempt. I'm not better at praying than the next person.
But when I see a baby in a barn, lying in a feedbox, wrapped in rags, I feel like maybe he does know what it's like. That even if he doesn't send us a 10% raise and a Christmas bonus, he will be here with us. He isn't afraid of poverty, even if I am. He isn't even afraid of my pathetic grasping for more out of fear even though we aren't really poor at all. He knows it all. He gets it.
In this world, the rich aren't always cast down from their thrones, and there are hungry who aren't filled with good things in their lifetimes. But I don't think Christ would have come as one of the poorest if he didn't know full well there is more to life than this, that he had a much greater reward to give us than a bigger paycheck.
The doubter whispers in my ear, "Religion of slaves. Opiate of the masses. Comforting the starving with promises of heaven." But Jesus didn't just preach for the poor to be content. He came to the poor -- and not just the poor, but everyone who suffers: the disenfranchised, the overtaxed, the lonely, the sick, the fatherless, every single person who struggles or is sad. He walked beside them and lived it.
If my God is a God who does this, I think I can have faith in him.
Merry Christmas, all.