I suppose the tradition of a Christmas letter is to recount the many different things that happened during the year so that you, dear reader, will know what has taken place in our lives. But this year, as was the case for many people, was the year of COVID-19. It was certainly that for us since Harold was diagnosed with COVID-19 towards the first of November. That indeed was the event that has branded its mark upon our collective memory and in many ways, transformed our lives. This Christmas is indeed a merry Christmas for us, for it is a Christmas where we have been given the gift of life. But it is also one where we reflect upon our finitude and realize that the grace of Christmas is found not in what we take but is found in what we give. In the brief moment that marks our time on this earth, Christmas brings before us the lesson that life is discovered not among the powerful, but among those who take nothing for granted and transcending self, find the gift of life in helping others.
As we give thanks, then, for the life gifted to us; as we express our gratitude that our marriage embraces the days to come as opportunity to do more for those whose paths we cross, we are troubled by the world that moves from 2020 and becomes the world of 2021. While Christmas is a time of celebration in which we revel over the birth of Jesus, one born of lowly parents and among the dispossessed—there is no room in the inn—we look back at a year of discord where, as in the time of Jesus, the powerful tried to quiet the powerless and silence the voice of the least of these by denying them a place in the inn. There was no place for them in the inn, so Joseph and Mary took comfort in a lowly stable and gave birth to the person who was Emmanuel, “God with us.” The presence of God is rarely found among kings. It speaks to us from the quiet places where we least expect to hear it, from the cries of a baby wrapped in rags, born into poverty and destined to die the death of a common criminal.
Joy to the world, for in this lowly place, among the poor and the dispossessed, we hear the voice of God. It is a voice of promise. It is a voice of hope. It is a voice of transformation for as Mary sang when she found she was pregnant with Jesus: “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53, NRSV).
It is a voice of transformation, for it looks to a time when none are turned away because of the lowliness of their situation but are given a place in the inn. In the voice of the lowly we hear the word of God that promises life to those who humble themselves and acknowledge God’s presence. There is nothing more humbling than the threat of death when we know that life comes from without and not from within. To know this is to know grace; to experience it is to have faith. May the voice of the baby Jesus speak to each of us this Christmas season giving us the gift of acceptance that we may hear God’s voice as it speaks to us from the least of these, a voice that brings down the powerful from their thrones and lifts up the people of God, the hungry, the lowly, to lead the nations. Amen.