Note: This essay was written for the "Faith Walk" supplement in the local newspaper, which was published on Dec. 13, 2014. Unfortunately, they do not have offer this on-line, so I offer it to you here.
Two months ago, my church hosted a Halloween party for the GSA (Gender and Sexuality Awareness) groups from the local high schools. Beyond it being a very fun party, there was a moment at the end of it that has had deep meaning to me as a pastor and a follower of Jesus.
It was while we were in a circle introducing ourselves and sharing some of our story. One of the boys told how he and his mom had pulled into the church's driveway and weren't sure if they were in the right place. Then they saw the rainbow flag that hangs in my office window, and as the boy told the story, when they saw the flag they knew that they were at least in a safe place.
Unfortunately, many churches are not safe places for our LGBT brothers and sisters, and many are not safe for foreigners (especially so-called "illegal" immigrants), women, single or unmarried parents, the mentally ill, and others.
Why bring this up at Christmas time? Because the birth of Jesus involves instances of being on the margins and an outsider. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace, and it is a good time to remember the Christian priority of compassion over law, justice over convenience, and mercy over judgmentalism.
Jesus' was conceived by an unwed teenager. She and her husband went to Bethlehem for the birth, and there they found no place in the inn. After Jesus was born, the only people who seemed to realize the world's savior had been born were not his own people, but shepherds and foreigners. Shepherds were about the lowest rung on the social ladder at the time, and the foreigners were neither racially or religiously related to Jesus.
Mary, Joseph, and Jesus then became homeless, fleeing to Egypt to live as immigrants, probably illegal, for a couple years to avoid persecution. While they were there, the king of Jesus' people slaughtered the newborns in Bethlehem because he feared the political ramifications of a newborn "King of the Jews".
When I consider the many immigrants in this country, and our long history of immigration, I wonder, "How many of them are Jesus?" When I consider the pregnant teens and single mothers, I wonder, "How many of them gave birth to a Jesus?" When I hear politicians and TV pundits try to stir us up to be afraid of the foreigner, the person who is a different race or religion or style of clothing, I wonder, "How many Jesuses are they telling us to fear?" How many political refugees, how many of the homeless, how many poor children pushed into the filth are actually Jesus?
If Jesus can live in all those categories or labels we like to inflict on others, then let us stop to consider that anyone on whom we choose to toss those labels just could be Jesus. As is recorded in Matthew 25, Jesus said that whatsoever we do to the least of these we do to him. Jesus is in everyone. This Christmas, as we retell the story of Jesus' birth, let us remember he is not just an abstract concept born 2000 years ago, but that he lives on in each of us, especially in our neighbors. Let us treat our neighbors as such.