It is radical enough to suggest that God donned human flesh, let alone in this manner. The messiness of Christ’s birth reveals the character of a God who is present in the stuff of real life, in lives like ours, in a world as chaotic and disordered and scary as the one we live in. God is present in the mess. God chooses to come among us in the broken, poor, and rejected, those others would discard. That is the good news in the grittiness of Christmas. That is the depth and extraordinary wonder of the love of God made flesh.
Our God is open to the risks of freely loving creatures. God prefers to “guide our feet in the way of peace,” to put the onus on us for shalom. God prefers to set the example for living through one human life. God prefers to redeem the world through the messiness of community, composed of free moral agents such as ourselves. As some Hasidic rabbis are fond of saying, “Human beings are God’s language.” It is through people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, through people like us (and unlike us, too) that God works for shalom. Even when we’ve lost the words, the Spirit moves within us, frees our tongues, and allows us to speak, “Peace be with you.”
I said it just a few weeks ago, but I’ll say it again: history repeats itself. Human civilization, across cultures and times, runs in cycles of war, migration, evolving technology, and social conflict.
The Temptations (the musical group) were right. You know the song, “Ball of Confusion”? And the lyrics, “That’s what the world is today… Run, run, run but you sure can’t hide.” Things are always in a state of flux. I think it was an ancient Greek philosopher who said, “Change is the only constant.” But the fact is that some people cope well with change and others do not.
The Protestant Reformer Martin Luther once wrote: “What does it mean to have a god?… A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart… the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol.”