A baby born in a manger. It was a simple beginning for a not-so-ordinary life. For Christians, the celebration of Jesus’ birth includes who Jesus would become and how he would be – the story of his entire life on Earth, not simply his humble beginning. Because we know the full story of Jesus, we understand love. We know what love looks like, how love behaves, and how love treats others, alike and unlike, typical and atypical, on the margins or behind barriers.
A way was prepared for him, foretold in scripture and by prophets, and Jesus prepared a way for us – with paths made plain and barriers to community restored (wheelchair ramps installed, invitations offered for all to share gifts…). Those on the margins were brought to the center and lifted up and a broken world was changed. Jesus came into a tired place where greed, power, and oppressive systems were at play, doing all manner of beautiful, human, extraordinary and ordinary things as love.
Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities, says, “To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth, and their importance.” When we prepare for the birth of Christ, it’s not just preparing for the baby Jesus, but celebrating the way and the kind of love he showed us by showing it to one another.
On Christmas Eve, in a church with high wooden ceilings, my aunt and I made our way hand-in-hand down the path toward the altar, passing candles lit above each pew. Her gait was slow and measured with heavy shuffles and small feet.
Her presence was big, as she stopped to greet friends along her path with a hug like she hadn’t seen them in years, breaking an otherwise solemn procession toward the cross. She held up the line of communion goers – filling their quiet, reflective faces with big smiles. Gently but firmly, I’d tug on her hand, pulling her toward the table for the Christmas Eve sharing of bread and cup, mindful of the unspoken rules of worship on one of the most-attended services of the year. But her path to communion and the birthday of Jesus was a celebration to be expressed with a joyful greeting for people she loved and who loved her.
After she died, too young but older than most people with Down Syndrome in decades past, people in our church would tell me how much they missed that – those hugs right there during worship, gently disrupting the orderly service, in the midst of Christmas Eve, sharing all of that joy and love.
In our tired world where greed, power, and oppressive systems are still at play, Jesus still comes as love between and among us, moving us to see each other as whole people, to gently disrupt the order and center those on the margins, and to turn oppression on its head. And that is truly something for which to deck the halls and light the tree, sing the songs, and celebrate.
Come, Lord Jesus. We wait in hope for you. Amen.
Kathy Dickson lives in Bluffton, Ohio, where she attends First Mennonite Church of Bluffton. Her interests include the theology of disability and the gifts that people with disabilities bring to the body of Christ. She is Director of Vocational Discernment and Community Engagement for Methodist Theological School of Ohio, Delaware, Ohio. She also serves as a field associate for Anabaptist Disabilities Network.