And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)
December 25, 2023, Words By: Kris Rocke, Image By: Heidi Levine
Perhaps you came across a recent article titled “Jesus in the Rubble.” It features the picture above, illustrating Christmas in Bethlehem. Rev. Munther Isaac, pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem, placed Jesus in the rubble in recognition of the war in Gaza, just sixty miles away.
Nowhere in the world today does the history of conflict have a more complicated narrative — one marked by a depth of suffering that surpasses what anyone should bear. It also reveals how fluid and shapeshifting the scapegoat mechanism can be. It looked one way on October 7. It looks another way on December 25. Just as quickly as the scapegoat takes on the features of one face, it shifts to the features of another, and pretty soon we all have blood on our hands, unsure of whose blood it is.
This, to me, is the rubble into which Jesus is born. And these are the conditions that make the Christmas story stand out in bold relief. It begs the question: How does one occupy human rubble in a way that transforms that rubble into the stuff of Creation itself?
For my money, the answer to that question has little to do with “winning,” at least not in any conventional sense. It’s worth remembering that Jesus was born a “loser.” He died a “loser.” And, though we might not like to admit it, he was even raised from the dead to continue his losing ways.
Jesus was born under the thumb of the Roman empire, in the occupied land of Palestine, in a feed trough, in a borrowed barn, amidst the rubble of war-torn people. Jesus was forced to flee with his family to Egypt as a refugee after a crazed puppet king freaks out and orders the slaughter of the innocents. Jesus eventually returns quietly, smuggled back into a homeland that ultimately rejects him. He died the death of a blaspheming traitor between two thieves, abandoned by his closest friends.
Of course, he was raised from the dead, but even that victory was hardly a victory in any conventional sense. The risen Christ took the shape of what James Alison calls the “Forgiving Victim” who returns to forgive those who murdered and abandoned him. In the resurrection, he breathes on his disciples and says, “As the father sent me so, I send you.” This is not the rallying cry of the winning team! It’s the invitation to participate in the giving and receiving of forgiveness. And frankly, this feels a lot like losing until, that is, we experience how it frees us and unlocks Creation itself.
I’ve sat with this story for more than 60 years. In some ways, it makes less sense than it ever did. But I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit it warms my heart. It matches my deepest intuition. It gives me hope — the kind of hope that frees me to lose. And this kind of hope only makes sense if there is a love so big, so deep, so wide, so vast and so real that it allows us to happily lose at a game whose only outcome is mutually assured destruction.
Thankfully, Jesus invites us to play a different game. It’s a game authored by One who does not need to win — One in whom there is no violence and who is in rivalry with nothing, not even death itself. Such is the God who is born into human rubble, calling forth life from within the rubble, showing us another way to be alive — another way to be human — another kind of victory altogether. It’s the victory of love which does not count it as loss to lose.
To be perfectly honest, this is exactly what I have witnessed within our community. In the best sense of the word, you are an amazing group of loving losers whom I admire very much. We’ve met Jesus in the rubble. And this is why we can dare to wish each other a very merry Christmas amidst all the rubble we occupy, especially the rubble we call our own.
When it’s all said and done, I have a hunch that history will show there is great power in learning how to lose like God. It’s how Creation comes into being, which is what’s happening today. Merry Christmas!