Nativity Politics

The Epiphany of the Lord
Isaiah 60:1-6
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 
Ephesians 3:1-12
Matthew 2:1-12
Lectionary for Mass

Welcome home, my child.
Your home is a checkpoint now.
Your home is a border town.
Welcome to the brawl.

“Song of the Magi,” Anaïs Mitchell

They are as familiar as any in the cast of characters that make up the mash-up we know as the Christmas Story.

The “wise men from the East” in Matthew’s gospel join the shepherds and angels found only in Luke to populate children’s Christmas pageants everywhere. With tinfoil crowns on their heads and festive tablecloths draped over their tiny shoulders, solemn preschoolers reverently place wrapping-paper-clad boxes at the feet of makeshift mangers. Parents and grandparents sigh and chuckle. Video and still shots are posted to Facebook before “Silent Night” has been sung and happy applause has been rendered.

Christians high-church and low have ritualized these stories (even as they have conflated them) in this very recognizable and much-beloved form. And why not teach children (and others) in such ways—through embodiment, performance, spectacle?

But for those who may be weary of the inevitable kitsch of this rite of passage, and perhaps especially for those who wonder if the whole nativity narrative isn’t just another fairy tale, it’s worth noting how the story of the wise men in Matthew (and also of the shepherds and angels in Luke) is rooted not in cuddly cuteness but in the politics of domination and costly resistance to it. Read more

Looking for the Redemption of Jerusalem

First Sunday after Christmas

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Over against the spectacle that Christmas in America has long since become – the kitschy sentimentality of front lawns unselfconsciously strewn with inflatable reindeer and snowmen alongside crèches populated by conspicuously Caucasian renditions of the Holy Family; the collective credit card induced hangover that invariably follows our annual orgy of consumerism; and our habitual rush always to look ahead to whatever’s next (there’s New Year’s Eve revelry to be planned, after all) – this week’s texts invite us to linger for a moment, and maybe take seriously the character and magnitude of what God has done and (believe it or not) continues to do through the Word made flesh. Read more

What Sort of Greeting?

Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11,16
Romans 16:25-27
Luke 1:26-38

 

The Christmas story has its own vocabulary. This week’s Gospel passage has been called the Annunciation, which means ‘announcement.’ Not in the sense of ‘before we get started, let me share a few announcements,’ but more like ‘we interrupt this program to bring you an important announcement.’

A mysterious messenger breaks into the life of a young, poor, unmarried woman, telling her she will have a baby. About the baby, Gabriel said, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” Read more

Like Those Who Dream

Third Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 16, Luke 1:46b-55
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

The recent events of injustice surrounding race in our country – nay, so many events in our recent news which embody a quality of brokenness capable of tearing any attentive heart – have perhaps eased the challenge of entering into Advent as a season of waiting and crying out for the presence of God in our midst.

The first Sunday of this season came just days after the most recent occasion for protests in Ferguson, MO and with those waiting for justice, we could stand in solidarity and cry like the first line from the Isaiah text for that week, “O that you would rend the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence!”

Perhaps anguish and an impetus to long expectantly have come more easily this year than others… Read more

Take Comfort

Second Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a

A week ago Saturday, I heard myself mumble “so much for Thanksgiving.” We gathered with new friends, a family in many respects the mirror image of our own, and we had eaten like princes, albeit a feast we (or, certain among us) had a significant role in preparing. The people Jaimee and I once mentioned we should incorporate into our celebration for fear they had nowhere else to go conveniently dropped out of mind in the later stages of planning. Our habit of pondering how good it would be to reach out to the lonely has not yet become a skill for making it happen. Or, perhaps, such skills are subject to perpetual atrophy.

It may be that my Thanksgiving dinner, however sumptuous, unsettled me because of what I was bringing to the table. Instead of the labor of lovingly preparing food together with others, during the days leading up to the holiday, I was sequestered with my computer grading papers, worrying about what my students and colleagues were thinking of my performance during the first months on the job. The pear cobbler that likely evoked shared experiences for those who worked together in its preparation, for me was just a delicious thing to be consumed. Forgetfulness of the lonely, lack of preparation and crude (unsocial) desires for comfort food: “three strikes,” I hear the umpire say, “you’re out!”

Comfort… Read more