As we come to the end of 2016 it is hard to escape that various political candidates vying for our attention. One candidate in particular has built his campaign on the idea that he is a winner and the other candidates are losers. America doesn’t need losers in charge. America doesn’t like losers. We like winners. We are attracted to people who win. You can have a humble beginning. That’s fine. We love the story of the humble person who rises to greatness. We love entrepreneurs and tech giants who started out in a basement or a garage. We love it so much that sometimes candidates have to backpedal to escape the often privileged upbringings that allowed them access to their station in life. It is a lot easier to know that a winner is a winner and a loser is a loser. It is a lot easier to divide the world into winners and losers.
The Christian story would be quite different if it were a story of humble beginnings that leads to greatness. In fact, that’s how we would like the story to be and how some Christians like to tell it. Jesus is a winner and if you get on Jesus’ team, you are a winner too. The Bethlehem stable is the humble beginning that grows into greatness.
The problem is that Jesus is a loser. He shouldn’t have been. He was from the family line of David, one of the greatest kings of Israel. His birth is foretold by divine messengers. The very heavens sing out on the night of his birth. Yet if you are judged by the company you keep, Jesus is a loser. His family can’t find room in Bethlehem. That seems like a small detail but keep in mind that this is a society where hospitality is huge. Joseph goes to his home town which means the town of his birth and probably his family. And yet no one can provide them shelter? Maybe it is this scandalous pregnancy that sends them to the stable. His parents appear to be losers.
And yes the angels do appear in the sky but not to the important people. They appear to shepherds in the fields, shepherds who were social outcasts, not among the nice and proper people, certainly not among the powerful people, certainly not among the winners. The first people who hear of the birth and attend to the child are losers.
Now as the story goes, the child grows and begins to do some pretty amazing things, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, feeding the hungry. He could well be on the path to greatness. He could turn the story around. It is okay to start out a loser if you then turn into a winner. But he keeps doing these amazing things with the wrong people. He touches the unclean. He consorts with the prostitute, the tax collector and various, generic sinners. The son of God comes to earth and he wants to hang out with losers.
He even teaches people about the importance of being a loser. “Whoever tries to win his life will lose it, but those who lose their life will win it.” Now not only does he want to hang out with losers, he wants us to be losers.
The good news is that we don’t have to try that hard. We already are losers. I don’t mean that we fail at everything we try or that we are too wrapped up in Star Wars or Game of Thrones. I mean that we are not living the life that God hopes and means and wants for us. I am not talking about a life shaped by following religious rules, I mean lives that are open to God at work around us; lives that find the divine in the ordinary; lives that find God’s abundant presence, love and hope at all times and in all circumstances. We are already losers. The challenge for us is to admit it.
I am a loser. I worry about silly things. I have to admit that I waste too much precious time in front of many and various screens. I struggle to eat healthy things and take care of this body that is God’s gift. I sometimes get irritated when I should be patient and am sometimes too patient when I should get irritated. I am a loser. I am imperfect. I have things to learn and parts of my life that need to grow and parts of my life that need to be pruned. I am a loser.
What we are celebrating tonight is not just that Jesus came to be among us but that Jesus came to be among us as a loser. He was born a loser to be among losers. He was born a loser to be the savior for losers. He was born a loser; he lives among losers; he dies a loser. But then as the story arc unfolds it turns out that God can turn loss into victory and losers into a whole different category of winner.
So I have an important question to ask you. Are you a loser? Now there might still be some hesitation because you know people who are real losers and you are not one of them. And how would it feel on this sacred, family night to admit to your spouse or your child or your parent that you are a loser? (Your spouse probably already knows it and puts up with it and your children, if they are over the age of 10, they definitely know it) So embrace it. Celebrate it. This sacred night let me tell you that Jesus came for a loser like you.
If you are a winner, this night means nothing. It’s pretty; it’s fun but it isn’t necessary. If you are a loser; this Christmas night means something. This night means that it is okay to be who you are. This night means that you are loved as you are. So I invite you to raise your hand if you are a loser.
This night is for you. This child is for you. Merry Christmas you glorious band of losers!