In the Christmas story, three kings, wise men from the east, come and pay homage to the Jewish baby Jesus. They come bearing extravagant gifts asking to see the child who was born king of the Jews. Why would they do that? These kings were not Jewish. Their religious traditions didn’t include prophecy about the coming Messiah. Why would commit so much time to travel such a great distance to recognize and honor a baby from a completely different background and life? And yet, as Gentiles, they brought the gift of their presence and their presents to this child.
In Ephesians 3, Paul’s revelation is that the gospel, the mystery of Christ, is for the Gentiles just as much as for the people of Israel. Jesus came to break down the walls of who is right and who is not; who is in and who is out. We are all one in God by the work and life of Christ. Jesus, to whom three Gentiles brought gifts, becomes the gift of salvation and life to the Gentiles.
This brings us to the revelation that there are in fact, several tragedies in the recent death of Leelah Alcorn. The first is clearly the end to Leelah’s life and journey. Leelah struggled for most of her life to understand herself, and felt that she was misunderstood by her family and her faith community. Those who support Leelah’s struggle to comprehend her transgender identity have expressed their collective grief and empathy regarding her struggle. Her family did not accept her identity and, apparently, still does not even in her death.
While this saddens many, it does not justify the social media backlash against the family. As Caitlin Dewey wrote in the Washington Post: “if you think the best, most effective possible action you can take to advance transgender rights is to harass the grieving mother of a recently deceased child, you lack imagination, humanity, any experience with grief, or some combination of the three.” Leelah’s parents tried to raise their child in the best way they knew … that’s what any parent does. These heartbroken parents are now without a child, and siblings without one of their own.
Just as the love of Christ was for the Gentiles and the people of Israel, it is for each one of us. No matter what. This includes both Leelah and her family. This is bigger than any single issue. It includes everyone of any nationality, race, gender, sexuality, identity, etc. As people who love and follow God, it’s time for us to stop taking sides and drawing lines. Really, we’re all on the same side.
Whether you have or have not already made a #NewYearsResolution this year, let’s make one together: to eliminate the phrase “those people” from our vocabulary. We’re all in this together. This is what Christmas, after all, is really about—this is what the visit of the magi is really about.