Growing up in a Christian family meant around this time of year my siblings and I would be inundated with the rituals and traditions of Christmas. From awkwardly religious Christmas cards sent to our parents from other Nigerian families around the country, to the cheesy stories that valiantly tried to connect pagan Christmas symbols to Christ (history of candy canes, anyone?), we took it all in stride. One thing I never understood, though, was why Christmas carols were so, friggin’, slow.
All the popular carols Silent Night, Away in a Manger, The First Noel, etc., are all sung in the key of way too boring, and in with a way too slow time signature. I remember, as a child, I would sing faster than the congregation in an attempt to finish this song already. Song after song after snore after snore! I mean, really: how many ways could we sing the story of the birth of Christ?
The Christmas story is a loud and human one, if we read the story as it’s told in the Bible. There was scandal and intrigue and epic journeys across miles of dusty road. But when we dig deeper and read the story of Christmas in context, we find the birth of Jesus in the Bible was made possible by people at the margins.
Our first character is Mary, a pregnant, unwed, teenaged mother who was part of an oppressed ethnic group in a nation known for its conquests. There’s no way she was not othered by her circumstance and yet God centered her in His plan. Think about that a bit. And while you’re at it, look at all the women God used in the Bible: all women at the margins in one form. For Mary to be unwed and pregnant was definitely a scandal that must have spread throughout her community. Even today, our politics of respectability systemically silence women who are pregnant out of wedlock, let alone teenaged mothers. But the Christmas story is one that centers the margins.
The shepherds come into play in the Christmas story, too. In context they were low-class workers, literally marginalized by geography, watching over their flocks on the outskirts of the city. But the angels were sent to them. The shepherds got to witness the magnificence of heaven’s choir the night that Jesus was born, not some religious leader or even a settled Jewish family. Why didn’t God send angels to people who were believable in their society? Think for a moment who’s more believable in our society: an unwed mother, a lower-class worker, a mega-church pastor or a supreme court judge. Again, the Christmas story is for the people at the margins, first.
And when we look at the description Luke gives us of what happened in that sky the night Jesus was born, we’ll see it was a party in heaven. It was definitely not a silent night. Yeah, it was holy and completely unlike any other night before or after it, but make no mistake: angels were making noise that night. Angels knew how significant the birth of Jesus was and they had been sitting on the news since the beginning of time.
I’m no angel, but I think I’d be pretty excited to spread the news. My praise would be loud and joyful, full of dancing and jumping and a full-bodied expression of worship. You can imagine my reaction when I came across the video below where the Nigerian group In His Image covers one of my favorite Christmas carols, Come And Worship, with just the right amount of joy I think this season is worthy of. I think I even sprained my wrist dancing to it! Oh well! God is great.
I wish you a very joyous, loud and loving celebration of the birth of Christ. There is so much more to this story than what I’ve written here. Some of it I’m just discovering for myself! But it’s beautiful to watch how it unfolds. And the deeper I dig, the more I see Jesus came to the margins first. And yeah, he was probably born sometime in the spring but we’re humans, too. We love our contradictions and misconstrued histories! Party on, people!