Reading scripture on the streets of St Paul often feels like a reality test. Am I reading about my present surroundings or about events 2000 years ago? I wonder at God’s word present in this moment.
The Christmas gospel reading is no different. I will read it this Thursday as we prepare to welcome the baby Jesus, the light of the world, back into this world. At least, liturgically, clearly, he hasn’t left us.
And so I will read, “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.”
Doesn’t take much to make this sound like present day events. A registration taken while Assad was president of Syria. Or, As minority President Trump called for a registration of all muslims. It doesn’t feel far away. It feels as though this story of God acting in the world isn’t 2000 years old. It isn’t so strange sounding.
On the streets of St Paul, the next verses sounds more familiar. Our folks have to travel across county lines for court and medical care. They have to find ways to travel down to welfare in order to be counted for their benefits. It isn’t so different from the traveling of Mary and Joseph. Transportation that isn’t optimal. Timing that isn’t optimal. A process that feels ridiculous and complicated.
And sometimes, in the traveling, babies come.
Several years ago, I knew a woman. She was released from the women’s prison in Minnesota in mid November. She was from Red Lake in the far Northwest corner of Minnesota. She was released into the cold with no transportation back home. She was released a week before her due date.
I spent a few days in conversation with her mother, who just wanted to get her back to Bemidji for the birth. We had plans for a bus ticket. And, baby did what babies do best, she was born at an inopportune time. Baby girl made her appearance while her mother was pondering how to get from Minneapolis to Bemidji. Baby girl was born at Hennepin County Medical Center rather than the Bemidji Hospital.
There are so many ways in which this story illustrates the brokenness of our systems. A prison releasing a Native American woman to homelessness, in the winter, while 9 months pregnant. There are so many ways the story in Luke clues us into the injustices that surround Christ’s birth. There is a foreign emperor making demands upon vulnerable people, with no concern as to their ability to complete the task demanded.
And we wonder, what is the good news here? How are the difficulties encountered by homeless mothers wondering if baby will come before there is a home ready good news?
But, that is just it.
Jesus came before things were perfectly ready in the home. The nursery wasn’t set up. The cute onesies hadn’t been bought. The registry, the one that is fun to do, hadn’t been done. There were no ridiculous shower games played in preparation for baby to come. Jesus came as the most vulnerable of babies. He came as a child to parents not yet married. He came as a child to people under empire. He came as a child to parents with limited housing options. He came when the hospital refused the family’s insurance.
And still, he came.
Jesus came into the hot mess of Mary and Joseph and their travels. God’s only son came into the world in a messy family system. Step dad and mother, traveling to receive the benefits (or disadvantages) of the empire.
Jesus came. God came and dwelt among us. God came to experience the life that the lowliest of folks experience. God came. God came and gave us the hope that the brokenness of this world isn’t too much for God. God came to know intimately the suffering of oppressed people.
I find it comforting that God can show up in this humble place. So simple. I find it comforting as I look at our altar table with treats and coffee and stains. I know that while sometimes God shows up with the host of angels, God also shows up on a sidewalk. God shows up at the gates of the prison. God shows up at the public hospital. God shows up where God’s people are most vulnerable.
Take heart in the dark winter days. God is showing up for you and with you.
Keep hope alive!