The social concerns of this season are rooted in Jesus’ proclamation of God’s reign: the renunciation of patterns that oppress others and the formation of a new human community that voluntarily embraces those renunciations (and the people who have been oppressed by the patterns we must renounce!)… Christmas does not ask us to pretend we were back in Bethlehem kneeling before the crib; it asks us to remember that the wood of the crib becomes the wood of the cross. — Nathan Mitchell
Sometimes us grown up folks are too easy to dismiss. We are so imperfect. By a certain age, who isn’t wearing his or her flaws on the outside for the whole world to see? Because we have so much history. So many complications. Often excuses, some of them pretty lame. Hurts that haven’t healed (no matter how much everybody else can’t understand that)… so much as festered resentment. We can be difficult. Even unpleasant.
But everyone — or almost everyone — takes to babies and small children. They are less time-worn. And less compromised. So full of innocent pathos, or just free enough of ambivalent history that compassion is easy; it flows almost naturally. Their stories are clearer, purer; their records clean. Their need isn’t muddied with questions of their own culpability or their lack of deserving care and compassion. No one can say about a baby “She got what was coming to her.”
But remember: the wood of the crib becomes the wood of the cross. Which is another way of saying that no matter how unsympathetic some grown-ups might be, they were once someone’s adorable, dear little baby. No matter how much they seem to have made they own beds and brought on their own mess, they are also, inevitably, in some sense also victims of a vulnerability we all have. Our broken humanness. And how together it conspires against us all, to make a world that’s not really any good sometimes at bringing out the best in us…
Today, the last Sunday before Christmas this year, you have a double assignment:
1) Identifying someone it’s too easy for you to write off, try instead to see something else, some little spark of light and real life, in him or her, even if you have to go all the way back to when they were just an infant in their parents’ wondrous arms — without whatever now makes them so difficult for you to embrace. Or maybe you do not have to go that far, but can find something redeeming in their later, more ambiguous life. Maybe you can even find something in them now?
2) Think about how their lives could have happened differently, that whatever has grown into that which you find difficult or hard about them hadn’t become a problem. That is was addressed or welcomed or forgiven or transformed. Try to identify “the patterns” (as Nathan Mitchell calls them) that created their edge or made its smoothing out impossible.
Be careful with this part of the exercise — there is so much we do not know, cannot know about someone else’s life. You can’t really “think back” or “fix anyone else.” But you can try to understand as you begin to see and renounce the patterns that make being our best hard for all of us.
Extra-credit: Read Psalm 145 today at least two times, with a significant time in between each reading. What’s the difference between the world as you know it and the world wherein God’s promises are sure and God’s kingdom endures forever?