This year what I need from Christmas is rest. I suspect I’m not alone in that.
None of us entered 2022 with a full tank. We’ve been stretched in the past few years in ways we never expected. Some of us have faced severe financial hardship. Some have lost family and friends to the pandemic. We’ve have had to navigate our way in an angry and divisive world. That comes at a high emotional cost. We’ve faced uncertainty in the face of political tension, a public health catastrophe, and a new war in Europe.
None of that accounts for the everyday stress and strain of life or the particular struggles some of us face. Even if life has been good to us this year, there’s still been a hidden emotional and cognitive cost. So, if you feel stretched thin, ragged like you’re falling behind, that shouldn’t be a surprise. The past few years have taken it out of us.
We also live in a competitive society built on capitalist assumptions. One of those assumptions is that something’s wrong with you if you’re not hustling. If you’re not getting stronger and faster, if your career isn’t blossoming, if your influence isn’t growing, if you can’t “adult” properly and without complaint, you are somehow the problem.
For some of us—the folks that life has been generous to—-are experiencing this stress for the first time. People on the margins, people who are not part of the dominant culture, who are neurodivergent, who live with mental illness or chronic pain, or any other experience that forces them to live more slowly, have known it their whole lives. They can see that the demand to rush, perform, produce, and keep up is killing us.
Wait… God becomes human?
Isn’t it interesting, then, that Christmas shines the spotlight on the biggest mystery of all? God–the creator, the one in charge, the one who knows all–shows up in a place of vulnerability and need. Most of our imaginations about God are about never needing anything.
But here in the manger, God shows up in need. In the baby, God needs warmth and food, and protection. In the baby, God needs loving parents. This little family needs shelter and financial resources. Shortly, this family will need asylum as they escape from the vengeance of the powerful.
It’s all too easy to slot the Nativity story into our larger Christian theology, to make it stage furniture in a story about spiritual salvation. When we do that, we look past the family, the teenage mother, the animal barn, the desperation and need. When we look past those things in this central story of the Christian faith, we justify our ability to look past those things in our world or even in ourselves.
Whatever else the Christmas story has to tell us, it also makes this stunning claim. God became human. To be human is to be dependent and vulnerable. To be human means to have to contend with need, and often, to have to contend with need while not having enough. To be human is to find yourself in a web of relationships and have to trust that others in that web are willing to help bear your burden with you.
One of the lessons of Christmas might be this: It’s OK to be human. It’s OK to be vulnerable and in need. It’s OK to be dependent. If God can be human, so can you.
Merry Christmas… and get some rest.