Sweet little Jesus boy, they made you be born in a manger.
Sweet little Holy Child, they didn’t know who You were.
I am struck by the contrasts this Advent and Christmas season. We often think of Christmas as this heart-warming, sentimental time. We love babies! Aren’t they cute and cuddly? We sing songs about the sweet little baby Jesus. And this is what we often want Christmas to be—something simple, upbeat, and joyful.
Yet the images that are filling my screens in recent month: refugees fleeing Syria and finding no place to welcome them, Black Lives Matter protests after recent officer-involved shootings, acts of terrorism in Paris and San Bernardino, fear pervading our world, and presidential candidates not leading us to our best selves but adding incendiary comments to the landscape.
So what does Christmas have to do with that?
A long time ago, You were born in a manger, Lord.
Sweet little Jesus boy, this world treats you mean, Lord.
Well, they treat me mean too.
But that’s how things are down here.
We don’t know who You are.
Do we get how political Christmas is?
Jesus was born to a people who were under occupation by another country. His parents were unwed teenagers. Soon after his birth, they became refugees, fleeing home because of an edict by Herod to kill all first-born children. The people who showed up at the manger: shepherds, the working stiffs on the night shift of their day, and wise men from the East, modern-day Iran most likely—all outsiders. God entered human history to give us more than a sweet story. God came to change our story and our world.
That is radical and political. God comes for the refugee and the wanderer, for those who are being treated mean, for those who do not have the daily experiences to know they matter, and for those who don’t have the opportunity to exercise their gifts or speak their deepest hopes and dreams because to do so could cost their lives.
Today, as I was waiting for the elevator in the place I work, a family walked by me. And a little girl, a girl with black skin and her head covered with a beautiful scarf, turned back to look and smile at me. Every day, I see refugees because I work in a building with the Minnesota Council of Churches, which is engaged in refugee services and helps people find safe haven and a new story that leads to life. I don’t know this little girl’s name. I don’t know her story: where she came from, what she has been through, what she faces on a daily basis as she makes her life and home here. But what I do know is that she is a precious, beautiful child who blessed me with her smile, and Jesus came for her whether she ever claims the name of Jesus or not.
You done told us how, and we are a-tryin’.
Master, you shown us how even when you were dyin’.
Just seems like we can’t do right, look how we treated You.
But please, sir, forgive us, Lord, we didn’t know it was You.
As I light a candle on Christmas Eve and sing 'Silent Night,' it will be more than a sweet moment that brings a tear to my eye. It is a political statement that the Light has come into the world, and this Light has come to bring life to ALL! My song is a statement of solidarity that this is what I stand for, and who I will be, and how I will live. I do know Jesus. I know that He came to save us, to take our sins away, and I will not be blind. I will see, and I will hear the voice of the angel that calls us to not be afraid. It seems to me that 2,000-plus years later, we are more in need of Christmas than ever. Let’s not miss it!
Sweet little Jesus boy, born a long time ago.
Sweet little Holy Child, we didn’t know who You were.
Didn’t know You came to save us, Lord, to take our sins away.
Our eyes were blind, and we could not see, we didn’t know who You were.
Cindy Gregorson is director of ministries for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church