12/22/19 – “The Road to Christmas is Seldom a Smooth One”

Posted on : Dec 19th, 2019 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

Claremont United Methodist Church (in Claremont, CA) set off a firestorm of controversy when pictures of their outdoor nativity scene went viral.  Now, how in the world could something as innocent as a nativity scene create controversy?

It wasn’t the folks at Fox News with their annual war against Christmas nonsense that set off this controversy, it was that Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus were separated and each placed in a fenced, chain link pen – and the baby Jesus was not wrapped in swaddling clothes but in a mylar blanket.  It is a depiction of what the US government has done with families and children at our Southern Boarder. 

Some saw this as the perfect description of our faith story in the 21st century.  Some saw it as sacrilege.  And of course, some saw it as “too political.” 

Note to the world:  Too political is doing NOTHING.  Doing something, whether you agree with it or not, is never too political.  It is just political.  Political come from the Latin word “polis” and it mean “the public” as in “seeking the public good” or speaking freely in “the public square.”  Some folks have this firm belief that faith should never be political.  Obviously, they missed the Christmas and Crucifixion story, not to mention 99.9% of Jesus’ teaching.  Our Christian faith is always about politics – people.  Our Christian and Jewish traditions call us to be politically involved especially for the well-being and justice for the poor, the oppressed and marginalized persons. 

The fact that many Christians have reimagined the birth story so that a rough-hewn manger in a dank stinky barn becomes a palatial suite in the Bethlehem Hilton, doesn’t make it so.  Jesus wasn’t wrapped in 1000 count fine linen sheets.  He was wrapped in rags.  He was born in a barn, not because there was no room at the Inn, but because Joseph didn’t have enough money to pay to get the last room at the Inn.  Every Inn Keeper held back at least one room even in the busiest of times, in hopes of renting it to someone who could afford his or her highest price. 

I think one of the most exciting aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus is that it reminds us that the road to Christmas is seldom a smooth one.  There are bumps and potholes and homeless encampments, and food giveaways, and kids who won’t have any gifts unless we give them.  There are people seeking safety and asylum for their children and their loved ones.  There are always “mountains and hills” that need to be made level – as Isaiah and John the Baptist remind us, “and the crooked that need to be made straight.”  

I’m sure Joseph and Mary had no intention of traveling down the road they did and given a choice, I doubt they would have taken it.  But, like our life journeys, one never knows where God is going to lead us.  Advent and Christmas remind us to always expect the unexpected, and to look for Christ coming into our lives and our world in the most unexpected times and places.  

Blessings to you, to those you love, and to our world as we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth!


Luke 2:1-20

About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to their own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for Mary to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room anywhere.

There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”

At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:

Glory to God in the heavenly heights,
Peace to all women and men on earth with whom God is proud.

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.

Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!

From The Message by Eugene H. Peterson, Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018;  slightly edited by Dan.


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