Millions of Christians around the globe awoke Sunday morning and began their Christmas celebration, marking the day they believe to be the birthday of their lord and savior, Jesus Christ.
Biblical accounts tell the story of how on a night more than 2,000 years ago, in the city of Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph were turned away from the inn only to find shelter in a nearby manger. It was here, scripture says, that Mary gave birth to Jesus, surrounded by farm animals and few shepherds and sheepherders from nearby fields.
It was the humblest of beginnings, which, say local clergy, is the entire point of the Christmas story.
The implications that story has today are profound, said Reverend Lori Miller of the Pound Ridge Community Church, as she drew parallels from that night to the 21st century. This was a poor itinerant couple and you sort of think of the shepherds as the undocumented workers. God chose that setting for a reason. Jesus wasnt born in some palace.
Pastor Chip Andrus of the South Salem Presbyterian Church said Jesuss birth into poverty is the foundation where one can find the true meaning of Christmas.
The fact is that this child was born into a poverty-stricken family and became a refugee the first two years of his life, he said. He was admired by the working class and the poorest of the poor. He didnt come to us as a rich person. He came from the bottom up. He was born to an unwed teenage mother. But thats the way God comes to us. He comes to us from the core of humanity, the base of humanity, and that is the true story and message of Christmas.
Miller said Christmas is called the incarnation because the Word became human in a dramatic way.
I think in a world so fragmented that God chooses to dwell within us has become a tremendous resource for strength, she said. Thats the self-giving of God. And thats why this is the season of giving, its a nice custom and has its place.
Conventional wisdom is there is no free lunch, but there is with God, she added. Thats the fundamental joy of Christmas. That God offers himself to us.
Andrus said the story of the birth of Christ is as much a political one as it is spiritual. He notes that Jesus was rejected by the religious majority of the time, as well as the political structure.
If it happened in 2011, where would Jesus be born? he said. If he was born in Bethlehem today, he wouldnt be allowed in Jerusalem or Israel not because of the people, but because of the governments and the situation over there. So, not much has changed.
Andrus echoed Millers sentiments that God coming to us as a fellow human being was his gift to us.
God came to us a human being and human beings working with God can make a difference, Andrus said. He is a God of love for all people no matter what your socio-economic status is.
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