The story of Jesus is the greatest story I know.
It is a story of humility, of infinite power relinquished and privilege surrendered. It is a story of incarnate love entering into pain, identifying with the other, and choosing to belong to a broken people.
Religion aside, I’m mesmerized by the story of Jesus. Contemplating the idea of belonging in this season of advent strikes me as an urgent call. In the backdrop of a grievous year and our global anxiety, we need the story of Jesus more than ever.
We need it because it is a story about authentic, inadequate, and confused people just like us. It's about a young, unmarried pregnant woman. It’s the story of a poor man with questions for God.
It’s the story of God’s love coming to us in the lowliest form of a homeless infant in a smelly manger.
It’s the story of a Middle Eastern family seeking refugee (sound familiar?)
It’s a story about fear and trust, about resisting oppression and pursuing the light.
Because I believe in the divinity of Jesus, his story is remarkable to me in that he chose to be born on the margins. He chose the poor as his family; he chose humility, anonymity, and social and economic powerlessness. The form of humanity Jesus chose prompts me to reimagine the character of God. What does Jesus’ story tell us about the heart of God? And what does it say about who God’s people are, and about where She stands?
I’m often disillusioned by the expression of Christian faith in America, and frankly around the world. The church too often bends to power and fame—acting as an exclusive club with a selective admission committee. It can be slow to listen and quick to condemn. Generally speaking, the church masks imperfection, fakes vulnerability, and buys wholeheartedly into our consumerist, performance-driven culture. At its worst, the church has endorsed oppression and perpetuated injustice.
Amidst this, I think of Jesus.
Jesus, a blue-collar carpenter who chose a life on the margins; Jesus who sought solitude, not spotlights; who invested deeply in the lives of few and who flipped tables in rage at injustice.
Jesus who welcomed women, stood up to the religious elite, and invited prostitutes and tax collectors to his table. Jesus who laughed over wine, broke bread with the despised, and washed the dirty feet of his friends.
In this current wave of populism and border-raising, I think of Jesus—who fled persecution as a refugee.
When I hear talk of registering Muslims or accounts of deadly racial profiling, I think of Jesus—a brown, Middle Eastern Jew.
When women are degraded, people with disabilities mocked, communities of color oppressed, and inmates locked up with no chance of redemption, I think of Jesus—who was one with the outcast and hurting. Who himself was the outcast, the hurt.
Too often our gospel is colonized so that it is no longer good news for the poor, but a prop for the rich. Yet the true identity of Jesus reveals the expansive, inclusive heart of the Gospel which is indeed good news for all.
There hasn’t been a lot of good news this year. As I reflect on 2016 and continue to experience our collective trauma, the birth of Jesus is a welcome reminder of the gritty hope that remains on the margins. Jesus’ example urges me to imagine what it would look like for us to truly live like him and be present in the world’s darkest places.
I cling to the story of Jesus because it is the story I need. I need examples of faithfulness to give me courage for tomorrow. I need the call to reconciliation as much as I need permission to be angry.
Like Mary on that dark night, it feels a bit like we are in a desert, too. Many of us are confused and afraid of what’s next. In this uncertain time, it’s necessary we find stories that propel us forward with compassion and bravery; stories that help us tend soft hearts and open hands. It is in the gritty hope of Jesus’ story that I rest for today and have new eyes to imagine tomorrow.