He was born in the Christmas month, but the following Christmas, when he wasn’t talking at the “normal” time, our family knew something was wrong.
My brother has an extreme disability the doctor’s label as autism.
And so do I, but I’m a master at pulling the curtains to hide the backstage of my life so that you only see the up-front illusion of my abilities.
You see, my brother is the cracked, disabled one.
I’m the righteous and responsible one with abilities from A-Z.
Or so I thought, until I met the Jesus of Christmas…
The cold, clinical description of autism goes like this: (If we peeked behind the curtain of your heart would you have it too, I wonder?)
A person with autism has four identifying marks:
- An abnormal absorption with the self
- Social interaction marked by communication disorders
- A short attention span
- An inability to treat others as people
Scratch the veneer off of my superficial merit and you’ll see these same four markers expressing the messy me.
I spend so much of my time as the center and circumference of my own personal docudrama.
I’m abnormally absorbed with myself.
Do you see yourself as the both the director and leading star of your own drama? Pretty tiring huh?
I miscommunicate, misunderstand, and misjudge. I have a communication disorder.
I allow such small and seemingly insignificant events and expectations immense power over my emotional life.
Do you listen well and always seek to understand another?
I have a short attention…….uh…what was I just talking about….span?
Do you struggle with external digital and social distractions?
That’s just the precipice of the problem.
What about all of the varied voices inside of you that express not only achievements, satisfactions, joys and hopes—but also fears, prejudices, jealousies and guilt?
The hub-bub and helter-skelter of voices all trying to speak at the same time contracts my span of concentration and I have little time left over to listen to you.
I am unable, in my own strength, to treat people as treasured people.
I often see others through the gunky lens of the latest way they misunderstood and hurt me.
In my mind they have morphed from valuable persons, made in the image of God, into monsters-ugly caricatures where I make their mistakes and misunderstandings large and grotesque.
I guess that’s a self-salvation strategy that reveals my insecurity and feeling of worthlessness.
I stop treating them as people.
Ever done that?
Surprisingly, it is at the intersection of these failures where Jesus and Christmas break in-
As a person with autism, my brother can’t help wearing his brokenness on the outside.
Most of the time I hide my brokenness on the inside, away from the exposing gaze of others.
And this is why Christmas is only for people with autism.
Matthew, an early devotee of Jesus, reveals the reason for the coming of Jesus at Christmas: Matthew 1:21 “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins."
Sins are the treasonous, twisted distortions of the heart we all inherited from our ancestor Adam. Jesus came as the second and final Adam to birth a new humanity by (c.f. Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15) removing the penalty and power of sin. He did this for his people in the midst of their inability (Romans 5:8).
Jesus came for the least and the lost, not the first and the foremost.
Ever notice that shepherds (considered thieves during the time of Jesus), poor carpenters like Joseph, poor, young, peasant girls like Mary, and barren relatives like Elizabeth have weakness and disability, not strength and power in common?
Our culture prizes power and strength as it marginalizes the weak and seeks to make them invisible.
I think this is why the Scripture story corrects our vision of reality when it describes the seemingly strong and weak members of a community of Christians this way:
“On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”
(1 Corinthians 12:22).
You see, my “indispensable” brother is and always has been my favorite Christmas gift. He was born in December and mom and dad named him Matthew, the same name as that early devotee of Jesus.
My broken brother Matthew has been a mirror that I may look into over and over to finally see myself; beautiful while simultaneously broken.
Matthew, the earlier follower of Jesus-- writing that “Jesus saves His people from their sin” has also been a mirror, revealing to me my true condition. My penalty for sin is removed in Jesus along with the power of sin. But every waking moment I limp as a shattered sinner suffering with spiritual autism. The presence of sin plagues me and I FEEL SO WEAK.
But Jesus became a weak, helpless baby where the shepherds would have heard his cries bouncing off of the stable walls.
He became a baby to heal my whole heart, even the shameful parts I want to hide because I’m so embarrassed that they need healing.
Jesus took on human flesh so that I could take on His free gift of eternal favor and worthiness forever.
How could Christmas NOT be merry with the gift of my brother Matthew?
Metro North Church