According to family lore, my grandmother was once voted the meanest woman in Mishawaka, Indiana. She was a tiny woman with an equally small measure of patience for her three children. One year when my Dad was 5 years old, my grandmother went out to buy the family Christmas gifts and somehow she lost the money and returned empty handed. No one knows if she accidentally dropped the money somewhere or if it was stolen but the upshot was that it was Christmas and there were going to be no gifts or tree that year. My grandfather had just joined Alcoholics Anonymous after a long career of binge drinking (he gave my aunt the wrong name at her birth because he was too drunk to remember the agreed upon name – he was that guy). This was a family that was rough around the edges, to say the least. Somehow my grandpa’s AA group heard about their predicament and hired a taxi, filled it with enough groceries for a week, gifts, and a tree, and sent the taxi to their home. They sent it all in a taxi so that my grandparents would not know exactly who had sent the gifts and would have to accept them. Thus a taxi hired by recovering alcoholics, filled with gifts, arrived unexpectedly at their front door on Christmas Eve. And the meanest woman in Mishawaka and her family celebrated the birth of Jesus despite having done very few works that could be called “good” in the preceding year.
To me, this is what Christmas is all about. Good news for all people, especially those barely clinging on to sobriety. Undeserved rescue for people no one else could stand to be around. And tellingly, rescue mediated through a community of people who came together to help.
We can celebrate the beauty of Jesus’ birth and clean it up in pictures as a cozy barn with pristine hay and smiling animals (just one of each animal so it won’t look too crowded). We can remember the glory of the angels appearing to the shepherds in the fields without remembering the smell of sheep that must have invaded the barn where they found Jesus when the shepherds did. We can call to mind the Magi who found Jesus in Bethlehem without recalling the slaughter of the children that happened a little later. But the thing that actually makes all of this beautiful, the gold thread glittering through the tapestry of this story, is rescue. God saw that we were in big trouble and though we did not deserve it, He decided to rescue us. And instead of showing up surrounded by bolts of lightning to the people in power and the religious leaders of the day, He sent His Son quietly into a barn using a disorganized couple and then sent angels to make the announcement to a group of shepherds almost certain to be disbelieved as ignorant and superstitious. Even the Magi didn’t seem to have been able to convince the priests that they knew something important and left unescorted to see Jesus. The Word of rescue appeared quietly and the “right” people did not recognize it. But the rescue was still real.
So what am I saying here? That we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas? Actually, no. I am saying that we should be celebrating Christmas hard. We should be celebrating Christmas like we Chicagoans used to celebrate every time the Bulls won a game back in the 90’s (maybe less shooting into the air, though?). When people meet us, it should be as clear that we are celebrating Christmas as it is when you meet a vegan and they announce their veganism right after telling you their name. We should be celebrating Christmas like the Father in the story of the Prodigal Son – lots of food, and bushels full of good will. “My child was lost and is now found. They were dead and are now alive.” That kind of celebrating.
Here we are, at the end of nearly two years of pandemic living. Many of us have stacks of masks and giant bottles of hand sanitizer at the ready. We are as prepared as we can be for the unprecedented, (which is to say, not very) and most of us are exhausted. We wonder when Covid will go away and let us travel or visit our relatives or hug our grandkids without wondering in the back of our minds if we or they are about to get very sick. The uncertainty is difficult to navigate. And this month we hear “Tidings of comfort and joy” blaring from loudspeakers in the stores, “Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas.”
We are here. In this place. In this time. And we need rescue. Not just from Covid and disease and uncertainty. We need rescue from racism and poverty and small mindedness. We need rescue from pat answers and glossing over evil.
But the Good News- the best news of all – is that Rescue Himself is here. Every day. With us.
Word of the rescue may come through obnoxiously loud music at Target or through over-sugared little kids running amok or even through a taxi hired by an AA group. Rescue can look very different from what we expect, and even be disguised. Rescue does not always look like rescue. But the Word is there and persistent. It will not fail. Your undeserved and unexpected Rescue comes. May you recognize it when you see it this holiday season.
Genesis Winter was raised in JPUSA and still lives there with her husband, Andrew. They are beginning the empty nest transition. She currently manages events at the Wilson Abbey, JPUSA’s venue space, runs the Chicago’s Best Baker Contest, and works as a spiritual director. Her past jobs include helping run Cornerstone Festival, teaching, and working in the community’s financial office. She is glad to live in Chicago with its extremely diverse population and fantastic food, and is always trying to find ways to bring people together through events.