The Christmas story tells us that the Savior of the world was born in nondescript Bethlehem, a hick town which had only one claim to fame: it had been the hometown of David, Israel’s greatest king. When Jesus was born there, the tiny town didn’t have much going for it; it’s little wonder that the only motel was chockfull of people whom the Emperor’s orders had sent there to be registered.
Ever since Jesus’ birth in that isolated and ordinary place, he has been showing up anywhere and everywhere. In fact, if we’ll will watch closely and listen carefully, we’ll discover him in our own lives and circumstances, even if that was the last place we expected to find him.
Jesus was born to parents who were, like their fellow-Jesus, oppressed. They were citizens of a country occupied by harsh enemies, and they were temporarily homeless. They were members of the working class, devout and observant Jews, and pious in good ways, not in cloyingly sentimental ones.
Faithful as they were, a cloud of suspicion followed them to Bethlehem. Rumors had it that Mary’s baby was not also Joseph’s, and both of them had claimed that angels had visited them in the night to tell them that the unusual circumstances of their baby’s birth had to do with the extraordinary person he would become. But people who heard the rumors and also heard Mary and Joseph’s stories about angels and dreams tended to believe the rumors.
Jesus is always coming to life among people with little power, the vulnerable, and the needy. He is present as the power of new life with people whose lives are messy and complicated. And, of course, in ways we sometimes find it hard to acknowledge, we are all vulnerable and needy; we all have tangles, troubles, and problems. We may be well-dressed messes and high-class beggars, but we are beggars, nonetheless: for love, for meaning, and for hope. Jesus gives us what we most need and what are most hungry and thirsty for: the bread of his own life, the wine of his own mercy, and the spirit of his own joy.
The angels sang of salvation to sleepy and scared shepherds in a simple field outside Bethlehem—not in cultured Rome or sophisticated Athens or wealthy Corinth. The God who sent a choir to a handful of shepherds on the backside of nowhere wants you to hear the music of love and the harmonies of grace which sound, if we have hears to hear, in the everyday and ordinary circumstances of our lives.
This is the story in which the Jesus gift comes wrapped, and he is, I believe, the most mysterious, most beautiful, and most radiant reality in the universe. When he is born in us, we become him. His light suffuses us; we shine because of him, with him, and for him. He is a gift of God’s light in the world, and he makes us gifts of light, too.