Rev. Dr. Paul Moore
December 24, 2018
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In my house, Karisse is the finder. When I lose something it’s because I misplaced it. If I don’t misplace it, I usually remember where it is and go get it, but when it’s not where it’s supposed to be, I’m at a total loss. Karisse, on the other hand, often deals with kids who don’t always put things away. She is really good at looking where you wouldn’t think to look, to “look outside the box,” so to speak, and find things in the margins.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem so many years ago, the Son of God was hidden in the margins. Herod didn’t see his birth as a spiritually significant event. It wasn’t an event at all for Herod until the coming of the Wise Men. Then it wasn’t a spiritual event, or a cosmic event, but rather a political threat. One he could easily overcome with a little extra-judicial killing, something he was good at already. The Temple didn’t see his birth as a religiously significant event. They didn’t pay any attention to it at all, from what is written, until he was presented in the Temple at the age of a week. Old Simeon sang a song that saw this little one for who he was:
Lord, you now have set your servant free
To go in peace as you have promised,
For these eyes have seen the savior,
Whom you have prepared, for all the world to see,
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.
Old Anna, as close as you could get to a Jewish nun, bursts forth with wonderful and dire predictions, about this child causing the rising and the fall of many, and that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart—but the Temple authorities hardly paid any attention to what might have seemed to them to be mere senility. The Romans took no notice of Jesus’ birth either. His parents, especially Joseph, was of interest to them in the census, but for the Romans this child wouldn’t have any meaning at all for 30 years. Then some centurions would find healing, hope and faith in Jesus, but otherwise, until his trial before Pilate, the Roman presence only spurred the Sadducees to keep Jesus from becoming the spark of a riot, bringing the legions in to enforce peace by the use of violence, and threatening the Sadducees’ neat little arrangement with the Roman powers.
The only ones to notice on earth were shepherds now, and foreigners later, both marginal people, the bottom of the socio-economic scale of the day in the shepherds, and immigrants on temporary visas in the Magi. It sets the stage for his ministry, to the sick, to sinners, to prostitutes and tax collectors, to those who knew they were broken and incomplete, rather than the self-righteous, and those who imagined that they didn’t need a savior.
Jesus is still born in the margins. Toward the end of his life, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great theologian and anti-Nazi activist of the last century, got fed up with “religion.” Not that he wasn’t a deeply committed Christian, he started a seminary and wrote books people still read today about theology and living the Christian faith. But as he saw the Roman Church collude with Hitler, and his own Lutheran Church sidestep the hard issues, he began to draw a line in the sand between people who were religious and people who were committed to this Child. True religion, he wrote in a letter from prison, is found in the margins; not just the margins of a religious tradition that had sold out to un-Christian ends, but the margins of a life that is increasingly secular, placing the true believer, in a way, always on the margins.
Where are those margins? Where is Jesus’ manger today?
On Wall Street, New York, that great strip of economic powerhouses with their towering skyscrapers, is nestled a church. When compared to the edifices around it, it stands out for the way it doesn’t seem to fit. Gothic in style, even its steeple is a fraction of the height of the surrounding buildings. But Trinity Episcopal Church, Wall Street, became one of the places the wounded were taken after 9/11, and a place where loved ones could come and reclaim the remains of the deceased. The difference in architecture stands in contrast to the buildings around, reminding the economic powers that there are margins that are more important than their centers. There are truths that are more eternal than their balance sheets. Here stands a community, giving birth to Jesus in the shadow of earthly powers, in the mangers of New York City.
In Ciudad Juarez there are three Anglican Churches, San José de Anapra, San Matías, and Espíritu Santo. They share a priest, Fr. Hector Trejo. Fr. Hector makes his living as a criminologist, and also pastors three congregations. None of them can support him, not even the three together. We were there a week and a half ago. There were people from Trinity, Wall Street there. There were deans of cathedrals and other movers and shakers in the Episcopal Church, the Wise Men, if you will. (Alongside them I felt like a shepherd!) Fr. Trejo shared with us the vision he has for a building that stands on one of the church’s property. He wants to make it into a shelter for immigrants coming from Central America, a place where they could escape the violence of the streets, and get their paperwork in order for their approach to the American border authorities. In the economic hustle and bustle, and the cartel-driven violence of that city, here stands a man giving birth to Jesus in the margins and shadows—in the mangers of Ciudad Juarez.
Just last week one of our own members came into my office. He had organized a sock drive for the needy. He and his contacts had filled two big boxes of new socks. Those socks are now warming the feet of homeless people all over town. Someone was giving birth to Jesus in the margins, and among the marginalized, in the mangers of Silver City.
If Jesus is born in the margins, don’t look for him where he should be. Look for him in the stable as much as the living room, the hay as much as the lawn. Look for him in the unexpected corners and shadows, in the face of the homeless, the undocumented immigrant who lives in hiding. Look for him in the face of the mentally challenged, the addict and the angry. Look for him in the relationships that challenge and stretch you as much as in the easy ones. Look for him in the situations in life that hurt or stir you to anger or are deeply sad.
Look for him in the mangers of life—like the shepherds did—and you might just hear angels sing.