Everything I know about the true meaning of Christmas I learned from Freddie Mercury and the rock band Queen. OK... maybe not everything. Some of it I learned from the prophet Micah.
Micah, you may know, had no patience for leaders, preachers, and politicans who blustered about their love of God, yet oversaw and profited from the economic exploitation of and discrimination against large categories of people.
A driving theme of Micah is that of a reversal of fortune: The outcasts and the marginalized are brought in. The neglected, the forgotten, and the denied are all remembered, welcomed, and afffirmed and celebrated. The poor are lifted up and the rich are sent away empty. (This is a theme, by the way, repeated through many prophets, and even into the Christmas story through John the Baptist's preaching, Mary's beautiful song of praise, and the very life of Jesus himself).
Micah's denunciation of the self-righteous "Godly" leaders - who make a big noise, putting their faith on display in the streets - evokes a Queen-like chant: "You're a big disgrace! God's gonna put you back into your place!"
Micah would not be welcomed among many in our present socio-political climate who are intent on parading their faith around, like Queen frontman Freddie Mercury strutting across the stage, boasting, "We are the champions!"
You can see how Queen connects with Micah; now let's connect Queen (and Micah, for that matter) with Christmas. Regarding the ever-so-familiar story of Christ's birth, we must ask, "Is this the real life? Or, is it just fantasy?"
The story of God becoming flesh, a vulnerable and exposed baby, born to an insignificant and unwelcomed couple, means that far from helping us escape from this world, Christmas hurls us head-first into the innermost part of it. Christmas is far less fantasy and exponentially more real life than we can ever comprehend - a true "Bohemian Rhapsody" if ever there was one.
As the Gospels so boldly proclaim, this is the world into which God in Christ comes, into which God in Christ lives, and for which God in Christ suffers, dies, and redeems. God does so, the Scriptures state, because God loves us; because God so loves this world. God, who is Love, becomes flesh and blood and is exposed to threats, dangers, hatred, and murder. Yet, Love endures it all. Jesus, Love personified, proves that Love (and God is Love) is greater than all the powers of hell itself, even death.
Rather than merely being safe and pleasant words on greeting cards or coffee cups (or not on coffee cups), the message of Christmas is that God injects Love right into very core of our social, political, religious, and economic relationships. Love, says Jesus, is the most important of all of our responsibilities to one another - there simply is no greater commandment.
But, we refuse Love. We don't recognize Love Incarnate among us. Our fears deceive us into believing that Love can't win; that Christ is unable to endure; that God is unable to redeem.
The terror of knowing what we think this world is about immobilizes our will to love. And love, as Queen and David Bowie remind us, dares us to care for the people on the edge of the night; it dares us to change our way of caring even about ourselves. Daring to love and daring to be transformed by Love is at the heart of the real life Christmas story.
Which brings me back to Micah, who admonishes us to remember that God is concerned about and involved with this world. Micah obligates us to a faith which is not an escape from but a commitment to responsibility to and for one another in this life.
And that is why I started out by saying that everything I know about the true meaning of Christmas I learned from a flamboyant and risque rock star named Freddie Mercury and his band Queen.
It's crazy, isn't it? It's crazy to think that God would become a little baby and cry and poop, and that God would ever sleep with ticks and fleas in a filthy, scratchy manger. It's even crazier to think to think Jesus actually expects his birth to dramatically alter how we live together in this present world.
It's crazy to think that this Bohemian Christmas Rhapsody is real life, not a feel-good fantasy.
Are you ready? (Ready, Freddie!)
All because of a crazy little thing called Love.