This week, Christmas comes. This week we celebrate arrival - the changing of place in a divine sense - where the beautiful force of heaven became a helpless and dependent child. It is God at work from the bottom up.
What I notice about this moment in our history is there is a great deal of attention to the systems in operation around us. Political, economic, religious, social, all of the above have a deep impact on our everyday lives. They must be attended to, for sure - some dismantled, some re-envisioned after a being smeared with the dark, thick grease of human exploitation.
In Advent, we see the interplay between systems and people.
We cannot see the joy of the shepherds, pushed to the margins and lost in their field and then miss the rage of Herod feeling his kingdom slip out from under him. Who is this baby who enlivens those at the bottom and sends those at the top into a genocidal rage?
We cannot see the trepidation of Mary, a teenage mother with a dubious reason for her “predicament” without seeing the natural inclination of Joseph to walk away and leave her exposed.
You realize, no one would have given a second thought to Joseph’s departure. It was culture. It was the system. It was honorable.
When Jesus came, he came in the midst of the poverty of the shepherds but he would also benefit from the financial support Joanna, wife of Cusa, Herod’s treasurer.
He would grow to be executed because of his opposition to Caesar (truly) but the evidence for that opposition would come through His unorthodox approach to the Jewish faith.
When God came to the bottom, to the grit and sweat of life as a human-in-skin, people with meat on our bones (the true meaning of in-carnate) and that meat grows strong but it also decays and diminishes, He came into division and oppression and expectations.
Choose a side.
Tell us who you’re with.
What’s your position on…?
God did not come to take a side, because He is a side. He is the side of the wounded, the oppressed - as we sing, In His name all oppression shall cease - the religiously excluded and the religiously wounded, the lost and found and wasted and worth-deprived, he is not “on” that side because incarnation sees things differently.
To be on a side is an adversarial position - it is to set ourselves against something or someone.
Jesus instead created a side.
Advent is the coming of not only a new way of seeing God, but a new way of being with God.
Jesus in the manger splits the fabric that is already being pulled in opposite directions by everyday people. It is as true today as it was in the first century world filled with Roman occupation and Jewish religious expectations.
Today in America, we are filled with the antagonism of American politics and the enigmatic personalities that pull us in one direction or another. We are also swimming in an amnesiac form of Evangelicalism that seems to have lost track of the fact that Jesus is not on a side.
Jesus is a side.
You cannot come as God in the flesh and avoid introducing contingency into everything that already exists.
Compromise seems unavoidable.
But a gang of first century shepherds are listening in to our hearts and the anxieties we face - a teenage mother laboring in a cave filled with livestock might cast a strained glance over to us - a husband-to-be who is simply lost in the strangeness of his life at this point and they all speak clearly to you and I:
Your anxiety is contingent on what you believe is happening here.
This Advent, we do not pick a side. We are called to embody a side. Aligned with the poor, aligned with grace, aligned with a Kingdom that doesn’t have time for posturing and pomp.
Aligning with a Kingdom complete with a raging immune system that repels ego, self-promotion, and hoarding like facile bacteria and spits it into the wind to be dissipated.
As we go into 2018, perhaps we need to assess the websites we share and the viewpoints we are advocating and ask this very simple question: Is this contingent on a “side”? What about the contingency that the baby in the manger has introduced into the world?
And then, once we’ve laid that idea bare before us, what do we do with the side we have chosen? Does Jesus threaten our world, given the chosen side, or would we be invited to the manger side and given the message, “Don’t be afraid. It is not what you expect. It is more. It is greater.”