I’ve been pondering recently just how queer our Christmas story is. Now, if you’re of a certain generation like me, queer might seem like a questionable word, one that has been used with derision or power-driven politics, and one that probably should be avoided. The kids tell me, however, that many are reclaiming the word – and the way they describe it to me, as a word that encompasses the unexpected, the margins, the exception to the typical majority … the slightly unnerving, maybe even scandalous, assertion of presence and identity that challenges the status quo …. well that word I can embrace. That word is a word I think we need, maybe more than ever, to reclaim the good news of the gospel, a word from below.
Over the years, various queer details about the story have struck me. But this year, as I’ve pondered the accumulation of these peculiarities that we so easily gloss over in the familiar retelling, it seems to have struck me anew.
A young woman, pregnant outside of marriage …. scandalous. But so familiar, we don’t linger there much. The Messiah born in a cloud of gossip…. Did Mary ever really regain her reputation – or was her inclusion in the incarnation so imbedded that she too relinquished any status, reputation, and privilege she might have once enjoyed?
A young man, told in a dream to stay with her….. a dream? Really? When was the last time you trusted that what you dreamed was from God and worth following through with? Hmmm. Maybe we should pay better attention.
Born in a stable. Displaced parents, the village midwife no where in sight. Where did the swaddling cloths come from – were they even clean? How did the umbilical cord get cut? The risk, the mess, the anxiety, the exposure. Was it humiliating for Joseph and Mary?
Lowly shepherds the first witnesses. Very possibly, given the culture, young women – unworthy of being witnesses in any official capacity. We sing the carols …. but do we pause long enough to think who the lowly witnesses would be if Jesus came today? Would they be telemarketers working on commission, hung up on more often than not? Would they be undocumented friends working under the table for cash well below minimum wage?
Announced by angels. Despite our fascination with sci-fi and special effects, visions of angels seem relegated to the religious fanatics or cheesy made-for-TV movies. But here, they show up in nearly every scene, terrifying the ones to whom they appear (they have to keep telling folks to not be afraid). These gender neutral spiritual beings are front and center in our Christmas tale.
The magi bringing pagan gifts. These astrologers, adding a bit of fabulousness to the story, would likely be under church discipline for questionable beliefs in many of today’s churches.
Not exactly your typical Hallmark card.
But dig a little deeper yet …..
Just how did Mary get pregnant? The Holy Spirit. The same Spirit known by feminine language throughout the Old Testament. Ruach. Breath. Sofia. Wisdom. She hovered over Mary, and Mary conceived. How queer.
And just what is Jesus’ genetic make-up? XX? XY? XXY? Was Jesus an intersex Saviour? Was this part of dismantling the walls of hostility between men and women? So queer.
And what about the word to Joseph … why is it so important that Jesus is named by Joseph, son of David? Jesus had a Father – why did Jesus need two dads? Jesus had to be adopted by Joseph to fulfill an heir of David sitting on the throne forever. Adoption? Yes. At the core of redemption is adoption. God condescends to be adopted by a man, to allow God’s identity to be shaped by one who did not have any hand in creating/bringing forth Jesus. The humility is staggering – but the receptivity to love, even the imperfect love of a human father, all the more staggering.
Not exactly your heteronormative married couple having church-approved procreative sex begetting 2.5 children with dad’s nose and mom’s sense of humour now is it?
I don’t know about you, but this married, mainly straight, mom who gave birth to our three children, finds such comfort and hope in knowing that the One who came into the world, to save the world, came in such a queer way. Somehow it bequeaths such freedom. It gives such generous space. If Emmanuel, God with us, came in the midst of such scandal and chaos, pushing all the expected boundaries of what is right and proper, ah …… then there is room for me. Then there is room for us all. Then there is freedom for us all. Then our adoption as Beloved children is so very secure. The very queerness of our Christmas celebration, the mysteries and unanswered questions, affirm the extravagance of God’s embrace.
Maybe you’ve always felt somehow on the outside. John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard, once shared a vision of someone outside in the cold, peeking in through the window at a family, all cozy and snuggled up in front of a roaring fire …. and said that God was opening the door, and inviting that one inside to know their rightful place in the family, to experience the deep sense of belonging they had longed for their whole life. When you feel different than everyone else, when you feel like you don’t see yourself, or hear yourself in the story, it can feel like you’re stuck peering through the window.
But see yourself in the story in a new way this Christmas ….. see how queer this story is …. and know that you know that you know that NO ONE is excluded. We belong! We are the Beloved!
Merry Christmas dear friends!