The Western Christian world is now in the time of Advent leading up to Christmas. Advent is a time of coming and also preparation. Whether we say “coming” or “preparation”, Christmas Day is the celebration of the incarnation, that is the culmination of God’s coming to earth as a human being in Jesus. This “coming” is an important part of God’s character. Because in every age God is always coming to his people. On Christmas Eve we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it is on Christmas morning that the effects of God coming (the word is ‘incarnation’), entering the dust of our world are just beginning to be experienced. You know how your eyes water when the sun reflects off the bright snow or the frost on the trees or the sun on the water? It is bright daylight now — Christmas Day makes our eyes hurt with the glory of the son’s coming. Christmas Day is different from Christmas Eve.
How do we hold this day apart? Well, first, let’s get practical. One of the early names we use for Jesus, found in the Old Testament, is Immanuel , a Hebrew word that literally translates that God has come to pitch his tent among us. That image makes me think of the man or woman next door, the guy down the block, the one building a new house on the corner. There is a new guy in town.
For some this new personage may cause questions, do we want him in the neighborhood? Do our kids go to school with his kids? Immanuel is that question of “who is my neighbor?” We might even ask the question what does it mean that God has made a choice to live among us. You see, God is the stranger in our midst. God doesn’t look like us, God is all people, all colors and creeds and genders. God is the one who is different. It has been said that God has come among us to comfort the afflicted, but also to afflict the comfortable, to wake us up to those around us who are different than we are, but belong among us.
Then if God is living among us and God is the one who is not like us, what does that mean? It means we are to open our eyes and come out from behind the curtains on our windows. We are to open our doors and our hearts to the stranger in our midst. When you read the O.T. notice how many times God reminds the Children of Israel to be aware of the alien in their midst, the stranger. God says, remember you were a stranger and an alien in a foreign land. You notice the strangers and you house and feed them and take care of them, because you were once as they are now. Do not forget.
It is a very uncomfortable place for us to be. Christmas morning is a time for family and for us to be comfortable in comfortable places, places we call home where we know everyone and everyone knows us. But how many places throughout the world is that not the case this season. Even here in Glendive there will be a community dinner. The purpose of that dinner is to provide a place for the stranger and the alien to join with the lonely and the forgotten, the elderly and the hungry and together we will share a meal and tell each other, “Here is a place for us to pitch our tent.” God’s call is for us to care.
At Christmas we like to think of Christ as King. But what the world has always has had to deal with is, what do we do with a king who refuses to act like one? Jesus did not journey to this world to live in the palaces of Herod Agrippa or Pontus Pilate or even Caiaphas the high priest. Jesus was found then as he is found now among the people who live in the garbage dumps of Mexico City, El Salvador, Honduras, New Delhi, and in the refugee camps of Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, Yemen, wherever the poor struggle to survive. This is not a king we control.
How does the world react — well, 2000 years ago they tortured and beat Jesus and crucified him as a common criminal. But God keeps coming again and again in every age and to every people. And God keeps dying again and again. In the middle of corruption and immorality and governments that do not know the meaning of ethics and countries that build fences and walls to keep people out and allow people to drown and starve and sit for years in refugee camps. And the baby who was born on Christmas Eve, is a refugee fleeing with his parents for their very lives.. He is the king who eats with sinners and tells people to love one another and answers the question, “Who is my neighbor?” with the story of every man and every woman.
Our fear of the stranger is most often our reaction to the king who was born in a manger of poor, struggling parents, whose first visitors were the poorest of the poor — the shepherds. When we are brutally honest with ourselves, when the church really examines itself and its actions and intentions, we don’t like what we see. We want so desperately to worship a God who looks like us, lives as we live, teaches what we want to hear and what we want our children to hear. But God is not going to remake God’s self in our image. It is the other way around.
What does Genesis say, “In the image of God he created them male and female.” In the image of God we are created. What characteristics of our heavenly DNA will we exhibit? It will be in those things Jesus preached were most important in God’s eyes — do we love our neighbor, do we care for the alien in our midst, do we value mercy and honesty and kindness above all else, do we try to make people’s lives easier rather than more difficult. It is Christmas and God has pitched his tent among us and is already working and active in our world. God does not wait for us, but strides on ahead of us, expecting us to follow and create God’s image of what the world was intended to be.