On Wednesday the developers around my neighborhood destroyed an electric box which left me without Internet access at home for a day—that was enough for me to drive to Center City and buy an iPhone so I could at least get some work done. It was an early Christmas gift, but my life without the Internet kind of pushed me to it.
And so I now I feel really special. I’m totally distracted by this super computer that’s in my pocket. I’m not sure I need another distraction in my life, really, but here we go again. I feel the need to repent of owning one, but I’m trying not to feel bad about it, but also not let it run my life.
Sometimes I wonder if the purpose of the iPhone is to keep us distracted and sedated. To keep us occupied. Ironic that the “occupy” generation is probably more occupied with something else. I am a bit of resister, so I try pay attention to the things that are distracting us this season. Distracting us from the Hope of the world. Of course, we know the obvious ones. Santa Clause is, like, the major perp here. But so are the religious aspects of the season. Cute baby, furry wild man, a desperate virgin with a more desperate story, her annoyed husband, a bunch of poor shepherds and rich magi. It can all be distracting. And so I really love how John puts it.
Now that’s the Christmas story, free of any bull. Not that I don’t love, love, love the other aspects, I like to make things just about Jesus as first. The darkness didn’t overcome him and even though he was in the world and made the world, we still didn’t recognize him. I wonder if we do today. And beautifully enough, he came and offered all of us a chance to be his children, part of the family, just by saying yet to him. He came to us full of grace and full of truth.
I hope we really resonate with the no frills aspect of what John is saying. Let’s make it about Jesus—not about Christmas trees and mistletoe and holly. It’s only about Jesus. May we respond to him.
Jesus enters the world knowing that he is bringing light to it and not surprising that he does so in a heavily conflicted region of the world. Still is one. He enters a city that is wedge between two competing empires: the Parthian and the Roman. Bethlehem is something of a warzone. It means the house of meat. Palestine is a border territory between these two empires warring for Armenia. You can imagine the intensity at a border when you walk around North Philly, for example, and your notice the friction between the long-time residents and the student transplants. It’s similar to that. Jesus might as well have been born right here in North Philly.
It’s a dangerous area of the world and Jesus is born right into it. Jesus is born into our most dangerous areas. The areas we want to ignore. The areas of our souls that we neglect. The ones that become environmental hazards. Look around North Philly and you’ll see those places. Venture into your cell and you’ll see them too. But let’s not just see decay and misery, but you see chances for hope and resurrection. Places for Jesus to be born into and change. That’s what we’re going for. Name them, don’t dwell on them and let them distract you, and then find Christ Jesus born into them.
Jesus is not only born into the conflict-ridden Bethlehem, but while also united to equally dark corners of the world. Two people-groups that not only are in conflict, but don’t even know each other.
The shepherds might as well be low-level drug dealers in the hood; like the kids who spray painted my block this week. Like Preston Broadus (a.k.a Bodie) here, a crew chief in HBO’s The Wire, a brilliant TV Show. The magi are high-level gangsters, like Russell Bell (a.k.a. Stringer), they might as well have rolled into town in black Porsche Cayennes stirring up gravel with music blaring.
The shepherds are lower-class individuals who aren’t exactly performing a high-skilled job. They are hired to protect someone else’s herd of sheep. Sheep aren’t easy to raise in the desert, and so shepherds are always on the move looking for the peculiar place where there is enough grass for their herd. It turns out that they are far from home often; a traveling type, with a rugged exterior, not known for their status in society. They can’t testify in court. They are often the scapegoats of all the bad things that happen.
These low class individuals are the ones who the angels appeared to first and told of the birth of Jesus Christ. They go and see him and worship him and adore him and they go and tell everyone around them.
The shepherds could have easily been distracted by their oppression, by their poverty, and second-guessed themselves, but they actually rose to the occasion, had faith in what the angels were telling them, and went to go worship the savior. This is astonishing. They leave their post and their responsibility and follow Jesus.
How many times do we get caught up in our own self-loathing and self-deprecation? How often do we wait for experience justice before acting? To have all of our stuff together? We wait until every cent of our loans are paid off before we are generous. We wait until we have the job of their dreams, then we serve.
What if we trusted Jesus despite our poverty? Despite our debt? Despite our loneliness? Despite what anyone told us about who we are. What if we were like these shepherds
They are in touch with their poverty and aren’t delusional, but triumph through it. Where are you poor in your life? Where do you need Jesus to come and fill you? What do you need to push aside to see him clearly? To go and worship him? What’s getting in your way today?
Some of us are a bit too full. The Magi, who are mysterious, fit into this category. Somewhere along the line they got morphed into being kings over the years. They probably came from Persia and they brought three gifts, so we think there were three of them.
They were mysterious, but recognizable—at least enough to show up in King Herod’s court and be welcomed. They probably didn’t show up on three animals, but more than likely, with a rather large entourage. People like that don’t travel alone. Think of them as our celebrities today—they don’t role without their posse. They are like a mix between Kanye West—our celebrity who famously roles with a huge crew—and the chairperson of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, a man of mystery who seems to be burdened with the economic fate of the entire globe.
The magi are mysterious individuals who have all sorts of power. They are influential, they select people in power (not unlike the Ayatollah), they have a vast knowledge of the skies, they even are rumored to have the power of sorcerers. Their presence rattled Rome and the puppet-king Herod.
Of course, Jesus revolutionizes them. They show up and they kneel. They are the first people to kneel and worship Jesus. They come not seeking power and they express a great deal of humility. Rather than being filled up with Jesus like the shepherds are, they empty themselves in front of him.
What do you need to empty in your life? What’s filling you up? What’s the star that you are aimlessly following? What needs to go? Where do we need to be humble?
This Christmas know who you are, like the shepherds do, and know that God loves you and calls you to go and tell everyone about it. And when you go, lower yourself and kneel to worship Jesus. Mutually submit, listen to each other, admit when we are wrong, and find unity together in worshipping Jesus. And then go back a different way, trust your new King, your new Savior, your new Master, and ignore all of the other things that try to enslave you and distract you.
Jesus comes into the world, when we’re distracted by our Christmas carols and Nativity scenes, into a conflicted area with conflicted people and brings them together. May that be our Christmas wish this year, find hope in Jesus. In his incarnation. And in the bloody redemption that he offers us. Be a light at the Christmas table this year; sing a song and let people now who you are kneeling to; if you must drink eggnog (which I must), raise a glass to Jesus.