It is Christmas eve. A time so many of have been waiting for. Can you feel it? Can you feel that buzz in the air? We are in this preciously small window of time in which Christmas feels almost magical. Family members have arrived, phone calls are being made, words of love and greeting are exchanged. I love this moment. And it is important to soak it up because it is also so fleeting. Christmas morning holds this intense moment of excitement, which by mid-afternoon has died down a bit. And by Monday, some people will already be taking down their Christmas lights. So just for now, let’s slow down and make this place, this sanctuary, our home.
As Christmas buzzes all around us, I can’t get this one nagging thought out of my head – Christmas is kind of absurd, when you really think about it.
I mean, driving around last night looking at light displays, on just about every street you can find a yard that has both Jesus in a manger and Santa Clause riding his sleigh right next to him. How confusing is that? Not only, that but we set up little crèches and manger scenes all over the place as a representation of two different Christmas stories.
The wise men…they don’t exist in Luke’s telling of the Christmas story. The shepherds…they don’t exist in Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story. And yet there they are, in the same manger scene. It is like telling the story of Goldilocks and the 7 dwarfs. It’s mixing together two stories. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s strange. It’s a little absurd.
Apparently, I’m not the first to think of this. Throughout the East Coast, a group of American Atheists have been putting up billboards trying to highlight the absurdity of Christmas. Against the backdrop of a beautiful nativity silhouette, one of their billboard from last year reads, “You KNOW it’s a myth. This season celebrate reason.” The Christmas story, the billboards suggests, is simply irrational. To a thinking-person, it don’t make sense. It is illogical. And here is the thing…they are right. The billboards are right. Christmas is unreasonable. It doesn’t make any sense. The problem is that they get it all wrong with why it is unreasonable.
I would imagine that their main argument why the Christmas story is irrational is the virgin birth. Because, come on, who is really going to believe that a virgin, or anyone for that matter, is going to get pregnant by God? It just doesn’t make sense. It isn’t scientifically possible. That’s their main argument why the Christmas story is irrational, I imagine. But the more I think about it, the more it makes sense that God would be born to a virgin. Not in a scientific way, but in a story-telling way. A virgin birth is so pure and clean. It is so….glorious. Mary can forever wear white as a sign of her purity and virginity. Of course that is how God, the holy and sacred, would be born. I don’t have much of a problem with that.
But what doesn’t make sense, what does seem irrational, or beyond reason, is everything else about the story. Take for instance the fact that this whole event happened in a stable. The Son of God being born in a sad excuse for a barn…surrounded by manure. It is no palace for a king, but a rest stop for the homeless. A cafeteria for the dirty animals and their flies. This is no place for the holy and sacred. No location for the birth of God. It would be as if the Son of God was born to an undocumented immigrant in the boiler room of an abandoned school. No one would believe that story. That’s not how gods are born.
But equally unsettling is the claim that God, the master of the universe, would be born under the rule of Rome, a worldly power. It’s right there in the first two lines, “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Only the ruler of the world can make everyone return home and fill out his or her census cards. It’s their way of making sure everyone is paying their taxes. And this is when little baby Jesus is born? In the midst of the Roman empire flexing its political muscles. Suddenly the Son of God is a registered resident of the Roman Empire and now owes taxes. How ridiculous is that? It’s a very un-god-like thing to do. And then when this Son of God is born, the first to meet this holy child are the shifty and roaming shepherds – those easily forgotten and often despised hired hands. They are the first to hear about and the first to announce this divine birth? When a child was born to the Emperor, Roman orators and poets were called upon to announce to the world this amazing event. But Jesus gets the smelly shepherds from the field? You would think the Son of God could get introduced to the world by someone a little more… sophisticated. I mean, if and when Prince William and Princess Kate do get pregnant, it is not like the London street cleaners will be the first to know and the first announce such a thing.
This is the Christmas story. The story of God being born in the world. And it is a little unsightly when you get right down in it. Jesus, the Son of God, is born into this world through contractions and after-birth. Into a blended family, where the only father he knows is Joseph, his stepdad. Jesus, the Son of God, is born in a stable in Bethlehem, a small forgotten town you drive through, but never stop in. It is the Pratt (MN) of Israel, if you will. So if this is the story, then it makes sense to me why the American Atheists would put up those billboards encouraging people to forget Christmas and be reasonable in their beliefs. Because it is definitely beyond reason why anyone in his or her right mind would believe this strange story of God’s birth into the world. I mean, if we start to believe in this story, well then where does it stop? What’s next? If we can believe this ridiculous story, then we just might start believing in the equally ridiculous idea that God can show up in other god-forsaken places– like broken families just trying to get through the holidays or chemotherapy centers where prayers for death are just as common as prayers for life. Can God really show up there? Who knows, we just might start believing that God could love people who seem so unlovable. Or that God is silly enough to choose people you and I as the vessels through which God works in the world. That would just be nonsense, wouldn’t it?
Christmas, it can be a magical time. But also a little absurd. It is unreasonable. There really is no reason to the season. Which is how it is with our God. A little absurd. A little unreasonable. It is this God of ours who shows up in the world in a very un-god-like way, which just goes to show how much God loves this world and those of us in it. That there really isn’t any place that this God won’t go in order to be near to us. And it is this God of ours who just keeps on forgiving us, over and over again, even when we didn’t ask for it, simply because it breaks God’s own heart for there to be anything that would get between God and God’s own people.
But that’s just how God is, I guess. A little absurd. So if I were you, I wouldn’t spend a whole lot of time looking for any logic and reason in this brief moment of time known as Christmas. It just isn’t there. But I would pick up an extra gift on the way home or set an extra place setting for dinner, because who knows…God just might show up. Now, wouldn’t that be absurd?