What are the chances that an unwed teenaged girl from a no-name place like Nazareth would give birth to the Savior of the World? Seriously? But that is what happened. As Christmas approaches, the truth of this improbable story comforts me. You see, we all have the odds stacked against us.
Some of us grow up in lousy neighborhoods, or have inept parents or struggle with addiction or mental illness or a loss so big we can hardly put it into words. And yet, we all, every stinking annoying hypocritical disappointing one of us, were summoned into being by a Presence, a Beauty, a Something that is the ultimate answer to all our human longing.
I am thinking today about a child born to a teenager right here in New Jersey a few years ago. Mom was mentally ill. Boyfriend was a no-show who gave her bruises when he discovered she was pregnant. And yet that child has as much right, as much possibility, for a relationship with the Infinite as do children born into stable, middle class homes where a sensible mom and dad bought a house in a good neighborhood with decent schools.
The images of my brother's newborn nephew being held aloft by his mother in a basin as she swam through Typhoon Sendong floods and of the stranger carrying her other son on his shoulders to safety, have stuck with me all week.
Maybe it's because I'm a high school English teacher, but I can't help thinking those images are both a reality and signs of a greater truth: the circumstances of our existence. The world around us is a mess. It always has been. We live in a world of sin and disappointment and sorrow and so much of it is our own making.
And through it all, we are carried.
When I consider the unfolded laundry, the dishes stacked since breakfast in my sink, the gray hairs on my head multiplying daily, and the never-ending household bills, I know I am not living a fairy tale life. Jesus' didn't. What does that tell us about what we were made for? Are we not more than our circumstances? What gives our lives value?
It seems to me the message of Christmas is that God, by sending His Son to live among us, made every human being a piece of a Divine plan. The life with which we are gifted is extraordinary, no matter its circumstances. Life offers us the chance to hear the Infinite, which calls out to us right now.