First published in the Gallup Independent on 12/15/18
Reprinted with permission
During the 2012 election I served as a poll worker. I enjoyed meeting and engaging with voters from every walk of life. There were young people and new citizens voting for the very first time. There were people much older than I—some walking with a light step, others barely able to make it from my table to the booth. There were Native people, Hispanics, blacks, Asians, whites.
There was one man I will never forget. He was clearly living on the edge. If he was not homeless, he was close to it. He was obviously working hard to hold his agitated mental state in check. He arrived at my station and said with great urgency, "I came to vote." I printed his ballot and handed it to him. He said, "I need to know the Democrats." I showed him how to figure that out. He took his time with the ballot, and once he came back to me. He seemed overwhelmed when he asked, "Do I have to vote for everything, the judges and everything?" The answer was no, and he was relieved. It plainly took a great deal of effort for him to fulfill this civic right and responsibility. He left carrying two handfuls of plastic bags after turning in his ballot. I was so deeply touched by the man's commitment to vote, especially because it took so much out of him.
Later I told my cousin the story of this voter. My cousin said, "Jesus came to vote that day."
People often ask the question, "If Jesus came to see us today, would we recognize him?" Chances are, he wouldn't come looking like the Jesus we've seen in artists' portraits. He would be more likely to look like the scruffy, plastic-bag-carrying man who came to my station to vote. Or like the homeless people we see on the streets.
Several years ago, my friend's son received the gift of a toy Playmobil Nativity Scene. The scene included the usual suspects—Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, a manger, a cow, a donkey, angels, wise men, camels, and fancy gold gifts for the baby. Young George also owned other Playmobil sets—among them knights in armor with horses, and a tent to sleep in; garbage collectors with a garbage truck, dumpsters, and brooms to sweep the street. He creatively arranged the usual Nativity Scene with all his other Playmobil people and items. Every Christmas. Over time George's mother would come upon the Nativity Scene and find the baby Jesus in many different places—sometimes among Playmobil police officers, other times with the garbage collectors, or sometimes with a motorcycle gang.
In the book of John, we read, "The Word [another name for Jesus] became flesh and lived among us." In the Christian tradition, this is what Christmas is about. It's about Jesus coming to Earth as a human being, experiencing the things we experience. I've often said to students of mine, "It's hard being a human being." That's what Jesus did—came and took on the hard things that we live with as human beings.
Now, living in the twenty-first century, Jesus still shows up in our lives—just like the Playmobil baby Jesus—anywhere, when we least expect him. With the garbage collectors. With the motorcycle gang. With the sheepherders. With the wise men. At the voting booth. In the worst streets but also in the banks and in the high places in government.
The question is, will we recognize Jesus when we see him? Will we know to honor Jesus when he is drunk or scruffy and homeless? Will we know to welcome him when he is a garbage collector instead of a college professor? Will we feed her when she's homeless and hungry? Will we visit her in prison or write him letters there?
Maybe this is really what Christmas is about—recognizing Jesus whether we find him in a manger or a garbage dumpster—needing to be rescued, warmed, and cared for. Jesus is among us all the time. He said himself, "I was hungry, and you fed me; naked and you gave me something to wear; in prison and you visited me. Because if you do these things for other people, you're doing them to me."