Was Jesus a vulnerable child?
Not merely in the cute, helpless way that every baby is vulnerable, but vulnerable in the way that children in Allepo, Syria are vulnerable to violence?
Vulnerable to prejudice and exclusion like children of immigrants?
Vulnerable to hunger and illness like children of the homeless?
The simple answer is Yes.
We know that Jesus was vulnerable in these ways, but most of our songs and traditions gloss over those parts of the Christmas story.
I love The Christmas Song...
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
It's about being warm even when it's cold outside, good food and happy children, and being merry all-around. Christmas for many people really is a most wonderful time of the year.
But it's not that way for everyone, and it doesn't match the whole story.
Just take a couple of minutes to review what happened.
Matthew begins the story of Christmas by intentionally pointing out that Jesus' lineage includes a prostitute (Rahab) and a homeless immigrant (Ruth), and neither of them was Jewish. Although Jesus descended from David, Matthew clarifies that it was from David's adulterous and murderous affair with Bathsheba. Finally, Jesus' family tree ends with his mother, not with Joseph, because she was pregnant before she married him.
Sure, Mary was with child by the Holy Spirit, as we read now, but that's not how the neighbors saw it. More likely they said Joseph was a kind and gentle man for enduring the shame rather than leaving her.
This was, to say the least, a blended family.
Next consider the characters who gathered around "yon virgin and child." The shepherds were dirty, unwashed, poor men who slept in the fields, apart from their wives if they were married. The wise men were foreigners who practiced astrology. Pagans.
If a nativity scene had been set up at the time, it would have looked like a vicious parody: the King of the Jews welcomed by nobodies and pagans.
And faster than you can say, "Holy infant so tender and mild" the story jumps from the baby in a manger to a power hungry man ordering the slaughter of innocent children and Jesus' family fleeing for their lives to Egypt.
Can you imagine that verse inserted into a carol, or that scene in a nativity play?
What became of the family in Egypt? They were immigrants who couldn't speak the language, unwanted refugees, homeless and poor, or cheap labor.
The purpose here is not to spoil the warm glow of Christmas - if that's how you experience it. Be thankful for family and safety and simple comforts if you have those blessings.
But let's also open our eyes and see the whole story, including the parts that don't make it into most carols and nativity scenes.
Consider that the story we celebrate is still unfolding even now.
To be alive in the story of Christmas today, look and see the vulnerable children and families in the world around us and, as we are able, welcome them. They are both far and near, and they have more to do with the original Christmas than feasts and silver bells.
Let the shepherds and wise men be our examples.
What we all have in common - whether in vulnerability or comfort - is God's gift to us all in Christ, born into a world of poverty, politics, and violence. Born into an imperfect but loving family.
Young and old, foreigners and locals, citizens and immigrants, happily married men and women and prostitutes and adulterers: the gift of Christ draws us together.
Merry Christmas! Christ is born.