The messiness of the incarnation

Several others have written this season of the significance of mess at Christmas – I am personally indebted to both Margaret Felice and Brene Brown. Nonetheless it is a message worth mulling over and living into.

Christmas is, for many of us, a challenging time. It is the season in which our ideals of what family should be are confronted with the stark reality. Our desires for simple Norman Rockwell-esque harmony is disrupted by the awkward complexity of what is.

Karen Armstrong in a recent interview with Oprah spoke of the concentric circles of compassion. She suggests starting practicing compassion with one’s own family. This has to be (for some) the most challenging place to start.

How do we practice compassion in the face of so much personal history? It is somehow more challenging to me than practicing compassion with the nameless stranger.

At this time of year – perhaps as no other (except Thanksgiving for those in North America) we are confronted with the challenge of compassion.

Somehow it is easier to practice when it is the nameless stranger – but until we learn to embrace those with whom we have shared most we have not fully grasped the message.

The incarnation is messy.

Practicing compassion does not require that we fully understand what we are committing to – it is simply the commitment to starting to work off trying to protect others from the worst of ourselves. Trying to live by the golden rule – do not do unto others what you would not wish to be done unto you.

The words are so familiar. But they are so incredibly challenging. I find the only way I can get a handle on a starting point is the recognition that the first hit is rarely intentional.

It may be mean-spirited and it may lack generosity, but rarely is full on hurt intended. And, if it is, it is because that person is in a tremendous amount of unresolved, unexpressed pain themselves.

The incarnation is messy because Christ is born amidst wounded, suffering people. The communication of the significance of the incarnation is messier still because those same people are trying to be perfect. Is there any wonder we continually miss the point?

Compassion is the only way forward – because it allows us to see the fullness of humanity in the other.

I pray that as I step forward out of the memory of this particular remembering of the incarnation that I will remember this.

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