By José Humphreys | December 23, 2015
“Yours is definitely the best!” my son argued as we debated the best time of year to be born. The consensus was that Mommy’s month, August, had the most perks with summer in full swing and vacation time at its peak. On the other hand, it wasn’t difficult to establish a compelling case against Daddy’s birthday month. Born two days before Christmas, Daddy can usually expect a maximum of eight good hours of birthday attention, before he needs to share his special day with family, Santa, and Jesus.
Dinnertime banter aside, we know that keeping Jesus at the center of Christmas is an exercise in spiritual formation for our family. Our son, along with countless other children across the United States, is bombarded with images, TV commercials, unsolicited toy catalogs, and intense conversations with other third graders about the optimum wish list. As parents, we’ve learned that we don’t get to dictate that King Jesus gets the first fruits of our son’s affections during this season.
So instead we rely on the living power of the Christmas story—a story we tell and re-tell, live, and contextualize. A story with power to re-appropriate our priorities, shift our realities (as we know them), and re-orient us to what is central to life. This kind of shift is what we called “flipping the script” in my old ’hood.
During Advent, a Christmas wreath and other trimmings usually grace our doorframe. But the other side of the door tells a different story. Each day Javier adds one piece of a paper-doll kit containing cutouts of a manger set. In our tech-driven society it’s a primitive gesture, but it’s a tradition we’ve held since he was two. Each cutout contains a Bible verse, and each day we add a piece until a fully constructed manger scene is formed at the end of Advent. We find this daily checkpoint sets our minds on the real Christmas story; each verse becomes a visual, time-released reminder—an act of resistance against alternative stories of hyper-consumerism that flood us whenever we exit our apartment.
On Day 16 we put up the Mary figure. Taped to her back is an excerpt from the Magnificat found in Luke 1, her song inspired not by a mighty archangel, but by another peasant woman named Elizabeth.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (vv. 52-53).
Mary’s song was a subversive retelling of Israel’s story within the context of Roman affluence. Her song re-appropriates Rome’s affluence in light of the Messiah’s true provision for the poor. And a poor peasant teenager from an obscure village would flip the script through Holy Spirit inspiration.
In our culture …“capitalism has replaced community as our economic story.
In a culture where, as theologian Ched Myers writes, “capitalism has replaced community as our economic story,” we the church as a storied people can reframe Christmas reality. Advent can re-orient our attention from consumption craze back toward the Christ of the manger, who preached detachment from worldly possessions. It is the art and practice of retelling the Christmas story. A remix and contrast between a commoditized holiday and a Christ who devalues its currency.
In our latest family “flip” we are exploring the historical Santa. My wife has been teaching Javier about Nikolaos the Wonderworker, aka St. Nicholas. Born in Turkey in the fourth century and historically known as a patron saint, he was known to place coins in the shoes of the poor. Nikolaos’s generosity has got us considering stocking stuffers in a different light—perhaps in service to Christ and the poor.
As we live into the Christmas season, we join the chorus of storytellers and singers pointing us back to a gloriously ordinary scene of a manger in Bethlehem. We join the great chorus of voices who would flip the Christmas script.