I come from generations of farmers, machinists, carpenters and clothing makers, all gifted with finely honed spatial skills. They are adept at deciphering maps, finding their way home without directions and creating clothing without patterns. My loved ones can conceptualize a building plan and make it happen.
My brain doesn’t work that way. Charts, maps, dress patterns and spreadsheets make me tremble. Sewing in home economics class was a nightmare. My teacher ripped out the zipper of my garment more than once. I calculate time for U-turns and pullovers to ponder my bearings when planning excursions. I bear the nickname “Pathfinder” for a reason. If I like you, I won’t give you directions or offer to plot your road trip. Yet, even with all the navigation tools available, I still get lost.
I envy the folks who followed the Christmas Star to find the Christ child and his family sometime after Jesus’s birth. The Gospel of Matthew describes the magi, rulers from an eastern kingdom beyond the reach of the Roman Empire, following a moving star that stopped over Jesus’ house. Again, we see an ironic picture of nobility paying homage to a peasant child, not the child of a legitimate ruler that they expected.
The Gospel of Luke records the experiences of local shepherds, alerted by angels, also adoring the child. But according to Allen Culpepper, shepherds were hardly on the social register. On the contrary, they were thought dishonest, shiftless and known to graze their flocks on other people’s land.
Thus, a cast of characters representing a range of social acceptability and geographic location followed divine directions to Jesus. We also know that the magi went home on another path, defying Herod’s request for news about Jesus’ whereabouts.
We don’t know much more about visitors. Possibly, some began their journey to Bethlehem but never arrived. Maybe they got lost in unknown territory. Travelers returned home to fulfill responsibilities to others.
Perhaps others planned for the journey but had to cancel. Their children were sick. They had to work. They attended the death of a loved one or welcomed a new child. They lost their jobs and faced eviction. Not everyone had the physical and emotional stamina to journey to the infant Jesus.
“We need not worry if we miss out on the first seating at the creche.”
Is it possible that they were faithful to the Christ Child even though the manger was beyond their reach?
We need not worry if we miss out on the first seating at the creche. Maybe our commitment to our families, souls and circle of the world is our path to the Christ Child. Steadfast love is not necessarily the public demonstrations of perfect church attendance, but rather our faithfulness in the small, the tedious, the ordinary. The gifts we offer in our relationships, work and worlds are ways of showing up at the manger. We can embody the narrative of authentic love just as we are, wherever we are.
With all its commercial and cultural distortions, the Christmas season can be one of the most profane times of the year. The message that overspending money equates to love is a detour from the Christ Child. The expectation to perform beyond our energy levels is another roadblock to the manger. The implication that we should be joyous when we are grieving is a “sign alert” on our freeway.
When we violate our authenticity, we lose track of who we are and what we have to offer the Christ Child and others.
We may encounter the Christ Child with empty hands. We may not have abundant gifts or heartfelt praises and wondrous joy. Instead, we may be discouraged, exhausted or heartbroken from loss and despair. We may be angry at ourselves, others or the world.
“None of our wrong turns and a lack of directions can hinder God from finding us.”
Yet none of our wrong turns and a lack of directions can hinder God from finding us. Jesus comes to us, unconditionally receiving us, no matter how lost we may be.
The Christ Child reflects a love that finds us, delights in us, dwells in us, whether we can journey to him or not. If we are exhausted from stress or grief, love restores us. If we think our souls lack worth, love beholds us as beloved. If we are intoxicated by joy, love dances with us. Wherever we are heading, that love accompanies us. It is not necessary to bring a gift or wear black tie attire to this celebration.
This season makes room to examine our broken relationships, unfulfilled promises, the innumerable losses and all that the world regards as sorrow and failure. For in these things, the Christ Child will find us, sit with us, either in spirit or through others.
There is no place too unbecoming for love. Love gives “light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
No pretense is necessary. No directions are needed.
Paula Mangum Sheridan recently retired from Whittier College in Whittier, Calif., as an associate professor and program director of the social work department. She is a licensed clinical social worker and supports voter accessibility and the rights of people without homes in her community.
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