The Christmas message is always inspiring. A young, first-time mother facing social ostracism gives birth in the most humble of circumstances far from home after a long journey. Surrounded by farm animals and their smell, laying in hay Mary gave birth to our Savior. The Christmas story is one of hope for a brighter future, of love for the immigrant, the refugee, and the cast out, of strength in the face of adversity, and of devotion to our God.
Christ was born among animals. His birth brought no kings or courts. It brought shepherds and those who knew what the sign was and who looked for it. His life was one of humility. His followers were those who knew what signs to look for in the next great prophet of Israel. His death was attended by only those very closest to him. His internment was taken on by those who loved him and cared for him.
When I think of Christ’s birth, I like to think of what it would look like today. It probably would not happen in a hospital. It probably wouldn’t happen in a first-world country. It would of course not be attended by heads of state or sovereigns. I think of the refugee crisis of the past five years in Europe and of people coming north from Latin American countries, fleeing state violence. I think of how pregnant women walk for days, being pushed by the fear of violence behind them and being pulled by hope for a brighter and better life for both them and their children. It makes me think of the words of the poem Home by Warsan Shire, herself a Somalian refugee.
“no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well…
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land…”
Trigger Warning: abuse, rape
I think of Matthew 25:40 – Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And so while these refugees, these cast out by society, those that are looked down on may not be Christ himself, the way we treat them reflects exactly the way we would have treated our Savior.
The birth of Christ and the Christmas season always reminds me to find the least of these – the downtrodden, looked down on, neglected, forgotten, and cast out. What communities are these in our time?
I love the Dave Matthews Band and it drives my wife crazy how much I listen to them. But they have a song titled simply The Christmas Song. There is one verse that reminds me, even more, to look for the least of these and what they look like:
So the story goes, so I’m told
The people he knew were
Less than golden-hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers
All soul searchers
Christ surrounded himself not with the leaders of the faith and of the church but with sinners. It was so unusual that the New Testament notes that the scribes and Pharisees grumbled about the type of company that he kept and friends that he had. In response, Jesus said that he had “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
So what do these people look like today? What groups or types of people are looked down on, shunned, or pushed out. People of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, refugees looking for a better home for their families, the homeless, the mentally sick, the single parents, the orphans. The list goes on and on
Christmas is a reminder to me to look for the least of these, to seek them out and to treat them as I would my Savior, not as lost sheep needed to be found and brought back, but to help them where they are (taking the words of Elder Uchtdorf out of context, to lift them where they stand). It reminds me that there are people in these groups – and others – that I have harmed and hurt. That I have biases that I am both aware of and unaware of that I need to confront in order to rid myself of them. Without identifying and ripping these biases out of myself, any work that I do with these groups will simply be putting a band-aid on the problem.
Christmas is a reminder to “have faith have hope; live like His Son; help others on their way.” To live closer to my Savior, to live more like him, and to look for him in the least of these. That the way I treat the least of us is the way I would treat my Savior.