The birth of Jesus is the ultimate outsider moment in history. We’ve long since dressed it up with tinsel and lights, making it something merry, pretty and popular. We celebrate with gaiety, food, song, gifts and warm, crackling fireplace fires. In the process, we’ve divorced ourselves from the starker, darker reality of the actual event, where a babe lay swaddled in a pile of straw, nervously watched over by two very human, very perplexed parents. By any objective measurement, the original Christmas moment was nothing we would want to celebrate as a crowning achievement. More likely, it was a desperate, cold, lonely affair.
And yet it is precisely the unreserved honesty of the story from which we draw a timeless sense of hope, as our darker human colors get shot through with divine light. Because the fact is, we all exist outside perfection, no less the babe in the manger. Though He was perfect, He entered our world in such shockingly imperfect fashion that we could never accuse him of grandstanding or playing safe. Insiders, whether corrupt politicians or fraudulent stock managers, describes a sinful form of privilege, an abuse of power and status. We live in an age of shocking insider power, insider dominion, with corrupt men wielding their privilege and status to the detriment of the masses. Jesus was birthed outside the loop of such power plays. Read between the lines, as this reveals something extraordinary about the humility of God, and His tender concern for the poor—that’s you and me. The sorrows of the human condition do not escape his notice. Why? Because he took pains to embody them. The King chose pauper parents, not Herod, not Caesar, and spent all his days wandering unimportant places far beyond the power centers of the earth.
We, too, dwell in the land of mess and rain where bullies roam, often feeling relegated to the B-team, forced to look with longing into where the pretty people live, full of power and success. We have not yet come to The World As It Should Be, but exist in the space where the kingdom is realized now chiefly through prayer. We long for it with sweat, blood and memory, but more often than not, powerlessness defines us. We are definitely not insiders. And so we bow low to the original outsider, a king hidden amongst shepherds and sheep. And maybe, just maybe, we are meant to learn by this, that if we only had Joy, we would never want eternity, while if we only had Pain, we could never believe for it. To feel outside is a deeply spiritual gift, a strong shot of truth in a world of illusion.
Perhaps that is the first gift He gave, when there was no room in the inn.