If humanity is on the move, what on earth is the sense in it?
Christmas brings an ancient story of people on the move, sometimes in chaotic circumstances. The birth story is familiar in the sense that we’ve heard it often. More significantly, it’s familiar because it reveals God in kinship with our human familia - enfleshed in the blood-and-fluids journey into life we’ve all taken. And what a tenuous, vulnerable journey is birth!
This particular birth story accentuates exposure, risk, and danger. No Instagram filter or photoshop retouch on this baby pic. The central characters in the infancy narrative – the young family, the astrologers, the shepherds - are on the move, outside comfort and security. They are in peril. Why?
First, Jesus’s family is on the move because of the few characters NOT in motion: Emperor Augustus, King Herod, and the keepers of the inn. Those entrenched few, with various sorts of power and position to preserve, appear fearful. Fearful power being what it is, the vulnerable child and others are pushed under threat to the very edge of life.
Secondly, we see another energy behind the story’s movement. If the first energy is a chaotic push to the edges, the other is a mysterious pull. A coaxing, a calling forth, a leading onward. A stirring of soul. A star that sparks an expedition. A dream with a message, from a messenger, to get up and go. An announcement from the sky that begins, “Do not be afraid,” and continues with good news of great joy worth seeking at whatever cost.
"Those in the story most "pushed" to the edges
seem most open
to be called forth and led
to another way with a truer center."
This second impetus for movement proves reassuring, calming, and trustworthy in its guidance. It is attuned to the central and centering flow into which all movement ultimately joins. In short, it is attuned to life in God. If that sounds grand, there is within this old sacred story an unashamed co-mingling of common grunge with transcendent meaning. That’s pretty familiar stuff for anyone paying attention to life.
So here’s the curious thing: there’s an uncanny intersection of the first and second energies. Those in the story most “pushed” to the edges seem most open to be called forth and led to another way with a truer center. Not just in this chapter, but through all the chapters of the gospels. The materially poor, as well as the poor in spirit, “get it.” Maybe because being pushed and pulled are so very familiar to the vulnerable?
Jesus came into the world this way. Vulnerable. Pushed to the edge. Open hearted. Led.
As the story unfolded, this was revealed to be both the way of God in the world, and also the way of becoming most deeply and truly human. As the child grew, and continued adult life on the move, there was a deepening of his sense of calling and purpose in God. Paradoxically, Jesus grew more unshakably grounded and centered even as life became more tenuous. “He learned trusting-obedience by what he suffered, just as we do.” (Hebrews 5:8, The Message)
Might we be open to follow in such a way? So many senseless circumstances! So much in motion not of our choosing. Battered and pushed. Also, if we are paying attention: strange good news, signs, whispers, reassurances, prompts. Beauty that intrigues and calls. A current to catch.
I’ve got my fearful entrenchments, and you’ve got yours. But I also have stirrings. Deeper stirrings than ever, in fact. You? What’s worth risking?