Like Mary, we should treasure the words of the story and ponder their meaning.
Unfortunately, if we do that, our peaceful holiday cheer will soon be displaced by a deep discomfort at the huge disconnect between the biblical message and our superficial adoption of it in our lives. Even before Jesus is born, in the messages brought by the angels to Zechariah and to Mary, Luke tells us that the baby will bring an unsettling message of social justice.
This year in America we will spend more than $450 billion on Christmas presents. In round numbers, that comes to $1,500 for every man, woman and child. What amazes me is that after I do the math, I am actually surprised that it isn’t higher.
What does that say about us as Christians?
In the fourth verse of her Christmas Carol, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” Christina Rossetti writes,
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a wise man, I would do my part;
yet what can I give him; give my heart.
But the reality is that the vast majority of the people singing that carol are not poor. And we are capable of giving much more than a lamb. When we sing about giving him our hearts, it touches us deeply, but we are not really serious about it. If we were serious about it, then we would live differently.
We will never close the gap between our lives as they are, and our lives as we know they ought to be. And there will always be a disconnect between the message of Christmas and the way we live that out. But we can make a start.
This year our Christmas pageant closed with a wonderful poem by Howard Thurman, who was Dean of the Chapel at Boston University for many years and a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. Thurman writes about what it means to take the Christmas message seriously. The poem is called, “The Work of Christmas.”
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoners,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.