This time of year there’s always a flood of meditations on Christ and Christmas, on what counts as consumerism versus what counts as Christmas, what is profane and what is sacred. Last week, I appreciated thoughts on the subject from a Lutheran advent blog which pointed out the vehemence with which we attempt to divide Christ from culture can become an obsessive act, the focus of devotion in and of itself.
Sarah Wilson writes,
“There’s a lot of self-righteous delight in pointing out how far the culture has traveled from Christmas’s authentic meaning. There’s a snide pride in saying ‘my liturgical year kicks your practically non-existent liturgical year’s butt.’ There’s a temptation to make Advent our own good work of getting December right and being really properly set up to get the most out of Christmas. Then it’s about our coming rightly to Christ and not about his coming graciously to us.”
I’ve been reading a lot this week in preparation for my course about how the images of the manger scene we cling to are not really all that Biblical or culturally accurate. They’re inaccurate because they present the manger family as nuclear, quiet, and sterile, which neatly represent ideals we import from Western culture, not from Israelite or Biblical culture. On the other hand, my Mexican friend told me the other day how their nativity scenes are kind of like our Christmas villages here in the states–kids relish the opportunity to add new characters (Biblical and extra-Biblical!) to the scene every year, creating elaborate vistas of mountains, crowds of children, lakes, dance floors, and parking lots!
Shifting our focus to the futile act of seeking cultural purity in our faith also causes us to miss what might be surprisingly central to both Mary and Joseph’s pilgrimage and Mexican nativity scenes (and problematically absent from ours, it seems), and that is community. One of the important reminders for me this season, whether it comes from the Lutherans, the Mexicans, the Pagans, or the tribes of Israel, is that joy is best when it is shared.
Joseph and Mary were probably not alone on the journey to Bethlehem or in the manger that evening–the joy of Jesus’s birth was shared by cousins and aunts and uncles and shepherds and wisemen. And then Jesus, despite the very real sacrifice, left his family to walk door to door sharing the good news with people. Finally, the disciples took that joy, not always bravely or diligently, but they did it–to the corners of the earth.
Now I’m not an especially evangelical Christian, but I feel God’s call during this season to share joy with those who I meet. Of course, in my mind, joy is a lot like love–it doesn’t impose, demand, or judge–it, like the birth of our Lord, is not about us, but about Christ graciously coming to us and living within us. I feel God’s call to let others in on this gift and especially not to worry who was really there in the manger or who belongs there today. I feel blessed to live in a time and a place where great diversity exists from door to door, and where life is fuller because you and I are both in it. And most of all, I feel humbled to realize that this joy is not my own.