It’s a little over a month until Christmas. With each passing day we become increasingly aware of all that’s about to hit us. Papers are due, work parties pile up, school play rehearsals loom. Then there’s all the gifting, cooking and family gatherings to consider as we get closer to the big day. Some of this is unavoidable depending on your situation. Traditions are hard to abandon and relationships are maintained and made new through scheduled events. The intimate moments we crave don’t always happen organically; we can and should schedule and prioritize time with those we love. So before we begin to bemoan how busy things get (arguing that our commercialized culture’s got Christmas all wrong) let’s take a breath and be realistic. Just because life is full does not mean it is bad. The world has always levied unavoidable taxes, which is actually an important part of the Christmas story itself.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. (Luke 2)
That was a long, dangerous, hot, costly and unavoidable journey. But in the middle of this ancient inconvenience arrived Jesus, an often-overlooked comfort in the story. God imbedded himself in what was an untimely, troubling event for many people. So we should always be on the lookout for God’s handiwork when inopportune episodes pop up this time of year. He’s present and always has been. We can take comfort that God is quite available in any setting, interested and at the ready to aid us. He is ready to give us the patience with our family and co-workers, and the grace to love many deemed unlovely. He provides what is needed in our lack.
In light of this, we might heed Jesus’ example. A cursory reading of the Gospels finds Jesus present in all kinds situations bringing healing and hope. Many of Jesus’ most comforting works and words came out of relatively mundane circumstances: the woman at the well, the Gerasene demoniac, the blind man named Bartimaeus. These stories remind us that God is more than happy to work wonders in grocery stories, ferry terminals and on sidewalks. Jesus came to show us that God is actually heaven-bent on being as available and accessible as possible. Which leads us to the next bit of the story.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…” (Luke 2)
Jesus’ presence changes things. Luke’s gospel is all about insiders becoming outsiders because of him; Christ is the great equalizer and all are welcome at God’s table. Shepherds were consummate outsiders in Israel since they were ceremonially unclean and usually untrustworthy (their nomadic life style often left them fuzzy when it came to what was “mine or thine”). So the angels’ invitation to the shepherds to gather round the manger is natural. Even dirty, thieving shepherds get to be in on what God is doing. In fact, they’re first on the guest list for the baby shower.
Jesus’ birth was announced to people on the job. This is precisely where the Gospel belongs: in the dark, amongst the rabble, in the spaces many don’t care much about. This is where we live, and it is very good news indeed. But consider the shepherds’ response.
…the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. (Luke 2)
“And they went with haste…” There is nothing wrong with a full calendar and hurrying about, but when we do so let us remember God’s presence with us first. Let us first rush to welcome the one already amongst us with good news of great joy for everyone. Jesus’ presence and example helps us to be available and accessible to many who will only ever notice his true character through ours this Christmas.