In any engaging story, there are heroes and villains, wrapped in a tale of risk and wonder. Quite often, there are other – lesser – characters who hover at the fringes of all that happens.
In the original Christmas story, when Jesus Christ is born, a presumed innkeeper is relegated to the margins by Mary and Joseph, angels and stock workers, wizards from the East and a corrupted, fearful monarch.
It’s because of this one shadowed character that Jesus is born in the open or, at best, in a stable. “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
On this Christmas, the innkeeper moves to central stage, because the ongoing pandemic and the ensuing constraints have made innkeepers of us all, guarding the doors of our homes, our shops and restaurants and our places of worship. Where, in the past, our doors have been open, we have had to check and double check and, often, to deny.
I know the agony of families and faith communities, wondering how and when to ask “disqualifying questions”, particularly when they have been required of each of us. It has made many of us weep to have a mere handful attending the funeral of one well-loved, or a scattered few witnessing a longed-for marriage.
Once again, people have wanted simplistic answers. Do we deny, or do we welcome? What about responsibility, and caring for our neighbour? How can people of faith ever refuse someone? Isn’t hospitality at the heart of every faith community? What is our responsibility to the weakest of us, those most in need of hope?
In every church, there are those who hold their views firmly, even robustly and sometimes, loudly. In many churches, there are people frightened that, if they open their doors completely, the disease will spread and people will suffer.
So, if my calling as a disciple is to provide shelter and hope, how do I challenge, even require others in my community to offer that same protection to those at risk?
COVID threatens some people’s lives as surely as violence, or injustice, or addiction, or poverty. Vaccination and associated wise behaviours cannot be seen as optional extras, but the acts of responsible citizens – and faithful disciples. There has been selective misuse by a few fringe members of the Christian faith to argue against vaccination, with bastardised theology and deliberate misreadings of our texts to increase fear, mistrust and anger.
How do we shape our own lives, and those of our community, to realise that these challenges require more of us than simplistic slogans and self-righteous anger?
In the same breath, it is the very heart of the Christmas story that God risks Jesus’ life with us. A tiny child, born, at risk in the world. Jesus and his family become refugees almost immediately, and there is the appalling story of children slaughtered at the hands of a despot.
Jesus was born in a time of corruption, empire and the suffering of many people. This story is equally true for our world now.
As one who follows Jesus, his birth two millennia ago proclaims a God who invests in our humanity, and does not refuse it. Jesus was born as an act of God’s love for us; God’s intention to serve and to save.
If this is the core of the Christmas story, then the response of all people of faith is to serve and offer life to all those in need. We are responsible, as human beings, to – and for – each other.
At Christmas, my faith asserts a God who says yes to us, to our humanity, to our lives, and to hope.
Blessings for Christmas, in this challenging time.
And a little Christmas video something, if you’d like … https://www.insights.uca.org.au/stories-of-hope-the-moderators-christmas-message-for-2021/