A Word About Christmas

If you had to write down five words to describe Christmas, I wonder what they would be. If you are a Christian, I hope one of those words is Jesus. For anybody who lives in the U.S.A., Santa Claus may be one of the words. Family, presents, tree, or food might be on your list. You may even list wonder, manger, and miracle.

But, what if you could just use one word, just one, to describe Christmas? What if you only had one chance to distill it down to its very essence? What would your word be?

Courage. That’s the word I choose if I just get one.

Christmas is courage: God’s courage, Mary’s courage, Joseph’s courage, and our courage.

As Christians, Christmas should remind us that we huddle together around a vulnerable God in a beautiful and ramshackle world—a God who is in utter need of our gentleness, a God who wants and needs to trust us.

And yet, we dress up this sobering revelation of God’s vulnerability with such ceremony and good cheer that we often squelch the courage this truth demands of us. Following a vulnerable God who occupies the minutiae of our relationships, our work, our bodies, and our habits is not for the faint of heart or for the fearful.

The sacred courage of Christmas comes from God’s taking a divine risk to be “with us” in all of our ambiguity—from suffering to delight, from dreams to despair, from our borning cry to our last breath. God is intimately entangled with us—which means who we are and how we live matters.

God’s decision to be courageous means we are being called to such courage, too.

The courage to see and know our own vulnerability, the courage to trust a world that seems so untrustworthy, and the courage to love into that unlikely place that isn’t quite sure of what to make of us—these are the marks of Christmas courage.

Jesus grew into the courage his life on earth demanded—to speak truth to power, to risk everything for love, to feel his way into the most fraught and shadowy corners of human existence, and to meet death with peace.

Christmas challenges us to ask of ourselves how are we growing into the courage our lives on earth demand?

Courage is risky. And it takes a lot of practice. When it comes to moral courage, it can be wildly unpopular, too. So the practicing of courage itself can be hard to navigate. Even those who say they love us, can begin to recede when we practice having courage in this complicated world.

It is hard to take in just how very dangerous Christmas courage is when all the wonder of the manger scenes, the sweet lullabies we sing to each other, and the distracting pace of compulsory gift-giving can instill a forgetfulness about who Christmas reminds us that we are.

Courage means seeing ourselves clearly reflected back to us from that manger scene. The baby in the manger tells us that we are built for courage because we are in a world that desperately needs us to be courageous. We are vulnerable and we are strong, we are fragile and resilient. We are not going to get everything we need or want from this world, and we are called to love it even so.

Courageous Christmas, everybody! And here’s to a New Year in this world where courage abounds!

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