December 25, 2013

A Thought for Christmas

The King of the Universe born in a stable can mean nothing less than the total subversion of the established social order. As I was contemplating this point this morning, I was reminded of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: as King Arthur rides by, one peasant says to another, "look! It must be a king." When the second peasant asks, "how do you know?" the first responds, "he's the only one who hasn't got [dung] all over him." The image of the king is of the clean, the privileged, the wealthy, the insider. But the story told by the Christian Gospels is the story of a "despised and rejected" king (Isaiah 53:3), an outsider, born in a dirty stable and laid in a feed trough.

Scholars agree that the Gospel of Luke, in particular, is a narrative of inclusion. There are some put together religious folks with an 'us vs. them' mentality, but the story is not one of God blessing these 'righteous' insiders, but one of God reaching out to the outsiders - not just thieves, prostitutes, and tax collectors, but also disabled persons, members of persecuted ethnic minorities, and the poor more generally. It all starts with the king born in the stable, a potent critique of our image of what it looks like to be born for greatness. Indeed, as the narrative progresses, we find in the Gospel accounts a potent critique of our image of what it is to achieve greatness. We very often think that greatness must come about by exalting ourselves over others, that being great, being successful, being good, must mean being better than someone else, and so, in our insecurity, we are eager to step on others on our way to the top. The Gospel narrative insists that that's not 'the top' at all; the great person suffers and sacrifices for the benefit of others. The great person does not need his or her greatness to be defined by contrast to someone else's inferiority, and does not need to be an 'insider' by contrast to some class of 'outsiders.'

In light of this, it is quite ironic that the conservative 'culture warriors' have turned the celebration of Christmas into one more 'us vs. them' story. "Real Americans," they insist, "wish 'merry Christmas,' not 'happy holidays.'" This is a narrative of exclusion, and it's a narrative being used to benefit the people in soft robes who live in king's palaces (Matt. 11:8) at the expense of the people born in the world's stables - or, to be more concrete, in the slums of the developing world. Being a 'Real American,' one who celebrates Christmas 'properly' - which of course means with the right lights and trees and things - becomes a way of exalting oneself as an 'insider' at the expense of the 'outsiders.' Santa Claus, the rewarder of the good little (wealthy, white, American) boys and girls, will bear this narrative of exclusion, but the King born in the stable will not. If we want to "keep Christ in Christmas" this year, we can begin by breaking down, rather than building up, these barriers between 'insider' and 'outsider.' The story of Jesus is a story about the demolition of the "middle wall of separation" (Eph. 2:14). The King of the Universe born in a stable means that none of us can any longer claim the privileges of 'insiders' at the expense of the 'outsiders.'

Posted by Kenny at December 25, 2013 6:09 AM
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