The first thing you might notice is the smell: something between a junior-high restroom and a kitty litter box. The next thing is the line-up of wheelchairs in the nursing home hallway, looking a bit like parked bumper cars at the state fair facing randomly in all directions.
The chairs are manned by human beings trapped inside bodies and minds that betray them. Chairs and people built to move are going nowhere. Attendants often do all they can, but conditions are defeating.
A pastor friend told me about trying to leave after a visit with a woman who had seemed not at all there. She suddenly came clear enough at the last to grab him and plead: Don’t you leave without me. Take me with you.
We’ll be visiting baby Jesus in crèches all over town this month. When the shepherds went to see the real Jesus, they might have noticed the stable smell. He wasn’t “to the manor born.”
And he couldn’t leave on his own. If he could have spoken, he might have said, Don’t leave without me. Take me with you.
When we look at baby Jesus in the manger and sing carols to him this season, will we hear his plea that we take him with us past Christmas? Will we understand that he wants to be with us in every area of our lives? Will we realize that leaving him behind at Christmas leads to a life of spiritual poverty?
The gospel accounts juxtapose rich and poor at the birth of Jesus. The shepherds represent the disenfranchised that hope in God’s power to make a future for them. The wise men — the so-called three kings or magi — bring tokens of their considerable wealth to offer as gifts to Jesus.
Mary sings about the humble being exalted and thrones of privilege being overturned at the birth of her son. King Herod is threatened by the infant who is said to be born King of the Jews — a title he fancied for himself.
Politics always struggle between democracy and plutocracy: between rule of, by and for the demos, the people; and rule of, by and for the plutos, the wealthy.
American people, rich and poor and in-between, suffer the sin of plutolatry — the worship of wealth. Plutolatry is a subset of idolatry; it substitutes a paper God for the proper One.
When we take Jesus with us, he will defeat our devotion to gold, frankincense and myrrh. He will teach us of a community in which no voice is privileged by wealth or silenced for the lack of it. He wants no stomach or soul to be empty.
I have always loved the smell of Christmas.