The Dignity of Christmas
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”
—Luke 2:7 (NRSV)
On Christmas Day, we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Could he have had a more humble beginning?
Mary, the mother of Jesus, was far from home and gave birth to her son in a stable because she and Joseph were turned away from the warmth of the local hostel.
The Holy Family became refugees and fled to a neighboring country when the ruling powers became suspicious of them and the threat the baby Jesus posed.
Yet, despite its humble setting, the scene is also full of quiet dignity. In the face of Roman rule and a decree for all to be registered, Mary and Joseph did all they could to secure a safe place for Jesus to be born, with swaddling clothes to keep him warm and a soft spot in the manger to hold him.
Angels heralded the Lord’s coming, and the local shepherds gathered in amazement to worship the child. Wise men from the East followed a star to offer their gifts. All of these visitors honored the dignity of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus in their own way. We are called to do no less.
We can do this most directly by fulfilling our baptismal promises to respect the dignity of every human being and to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. There is no better way to honor Jesus this Christmas.
At Episcopal Relief & Development we take honoring the dignity of our partners very seriously, seeking and serving Christ in them and through them. It is one of our core values, along with Faith, Leadership, Excellence and Relationship.
Our partners are the leaders.
When we collaborate with our partners, we come as servants. Our goal is to assist them in achieving their own vision of a reconciled and healed world, beginning in their own communities.
Our partners are the teachers.
When we take on the role of convener, organizing learning exchanges amongst our partners, we honor the success and expertise in one program and enable sharing with emerging talent in another.
Our partners are the owners.
When we visit partners and the communities where they are working, we are often treated as honored guests. However, it’s always important to understand that the work we are seeing is not our work, but the work of the communities themselves.
The angels, shepherds and wise men of the nativity story respected the dignity of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus, even in their humble circumstances.
We can do no less as we seek and serve Christ in all people.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Robert W. Radtke is the President of Episcopal Relief & Development.
Images: Top, The Nativity with the Prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel by Duccio di Buoninsegna, 1308-11; Middle 1, slideshow of Nativity paintings from around the world – Source; Middle 2, Staff from our partner in Honduras, Episcopal Diocese of Honduras and its Anglican Agency of Development AANGLIDESH; Middle 3, Community Promoters from Namibia and Angola assists in a micro-savings program training in Zambia. Community in the Philippines showcasing the tramway they built to move produce down the hill, photo by Harvey Wang.