I am on the shore of the Mississippi River. I can’t see into the water in this light. I can’t see the bottom of the river, or much more than the movement of the surface and the reflection of sky bright upon the ripples and waves.
I know something of this body of water, its power for life and destruction, its broadness and strength — but I’ve never before encountered these particular droplets joining together into the one mass that flows in front of me. It is at once so familiar and completely new.
I’ve never traveled to the source of this mighty stream nor to its end. I only know a slice of this water. I’ve crossed this river hundreds of times, but only a section, really — the bridges between the Twin Cities and Dubuque. This region — often called the Upper Mississippi Valley — feels most like home to me, compared to any other place I have been.
The presence of this stream during different eras of my life has convinced me I know this river well, has put me into relationship with it, has established an affection for it within me. Only reluctantly, awkwardly, can I admit that…
With the birth of Christ, we’ve entered into the season of the Incarnation. The arrival of the Incarnation is God-made-flesh and dwelling among us as a babe long ago and God’s powerful presence active in each ordinary moment. God is near, God is here: peer into the humble love revealed among the heartaches, the light shimmering and providing peace. This is God among us.
We must wake up and pay attention to the many holy ways Christ is alive and in our midst.
Speaking of waking up and paying attention, in the past year or so I have heard a lot of folks use the word “woke” in phrases like
Basically, as I understand it, “being woke” means to be aware of injustices; in-tune and conscious of what’s really happening in the world and how oppression seeps into many structures of society.
This sort of consciousness, I’d like to suggest, is a Christmas mode. We can’t help but to expand our consciousness when we come to know The Truth—Truth is one of the many names for God.
Praying and meditating on the Christmas Scriptures, I found myself pondering the impacts of Joseph being woke:
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
He had no relations with her until she bore a son,
and he named him Jesus.
~ Matthew 1: 24-25
A woke Joseph? I know the context might be a stretch, but hear me out. Although the word in the Gospel is awoke and not woke, and Joseph was literally waking from sleeping, clearly Joseph gained a new consciousness and awareness in the midst of his dreaming in the dark. When he was troubled, Joseph encountered God in the dark and was forever changed.
We all have been journeying in the dark; many of us still are. We have felt disturbed and troubled. The Christian invitation has moved us toward the pain.
We, like Joseph, have been transformed because we have come to know the Truth. Being woke, though, isn’t just about knowing. Nor is Christmas.
The Christmas challenge (that Joseph has modeled for us so well) is that we must move into action. Even bold, drastic, counter-cultural actions that might be misunderstood. Do you think it was easy for Joseph to have “no relations” with his wife Mary? Probably not. Can you imagine how much his friends might mock him for that if this story were to happen in the modern world?
And, what about the naming of his son Jesus? Would that have been an easy action for the sake of God’s plan? I’m no expert, but I don’t think it would have been. Breaking with tradition is always likely to disturb the status quo and confuse community. A scene from the film The Nativity Story comes to mind in which the midwives turn to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, after her son John is born, and say “What will you name him?” When Elizabeth replies John, they all protest. “But there is no one in your family by that name!”
Being woke with the Truth that many are suffering compels us to name Jesus, to help people know love in the midst of turmoil. This is the great Christmas challenge: we must let our conversion move us into action for the sake of God’s plan. Through bold acts of love, through courageous defenses of human rights and the dignity of life, we proclaim who Jesus Christ is to the world: Prince of Peace, Counselor, Emmanuel, King of Kings, Light of the World, The Way, The Truth, The Life.
Yes, Jesus Christ is born and is here among us; we shall never be the same!