* This post is part of an Advent devotional being posted daily during Advent 2014. For an intro to this series of posts, please read the initial post here.
Wednesday 24 December
Read: Isaiah 65:17-25
(light four candles)
Have you noticed what’s missing from the nativity scenes that adorn our mantels? Blood, dirt, and manure. Mary has just given birth in a back room used for the animals! Yet, Mary’s clothes inevitably fall gracefully down her side with pleated folds protecting her modesty. Did she do a quick change of clothes after the messiness of birthing a baby? And her smiling face looks so freshly washed – no sweaty, dirty smudges, not a hair matted to forehead or cheek! Joseph stands peacefully by her side, though they’ve just finished a journey and his wife is giving birth to a child that is not his own.
And we could ask further: Why do the shepherds looks so clean and approachable? The shepherds that show up were not the rustic romantics found in so many of our paintings. It’s doubtful they would have been welcomed in most of our churches, assuming they would have had any desire to make their way to one of our buildings. And the “wise men” or “magi” who would come along some time later were pretty much astrologers – new age mystics. Hardly the “holy nativity” of the children’s Christmas specials we rehearse and celebrate every year. And where are the Roman soldiers or the tax collectors? Granted they are not mentioned as being witnesses to Jesus’ birth, but if it were not for Caesar Augustus calling for a census (the first one while Quirinius was governor of Syria), Joseph and Mary would not have been in Bethlehem. The oppressive Roman government is woven into the tapestry of Jesus’ birth. Shouldn’t they at least be acknowledged in the story we tell through our decorations? No, the first nativity scene was much more gritty than our carefully carved, painted figurines would lead us to believe.
But we need to see the messiness of this night. We need to be reminded of the squalor, the raw filth and aftermath of birth, the angst of a young marriage, the disreputable character of shepherds, the suspicion aroused by foreign magicians, the weight of poverty and oppression in the shadow of the Roman oppressors that surrounded Jesus’ birth. Jesus did not start his redemptive work in a stoic scene from some Renaissance painting; he literally entered in the midst of our dirt, manure, and blood. Without this realistic vision of that first night of God living with us, we cannot embrace the vision of us living with God that Isaiah casts in this passage.
God has always met us in the midst of our needs in order to bring us where we never imagined going ourselves. Before we called out to God, God called out to us in compassion “where are you?” Before we knew we needed a savior, God promised to enter our suffering and free us from our sins. When we least expected it, God became one with us as a child born to a teenage girl in the back country of a militarily occupied people. While we were still God’s enemies, Christ died for us. Before we realized how difficult it would be to live between Jesus’ ascension and his second coming, God had already sent the Holy Spirit. And before we can imagine the full flourishing and abundant life of God’s coming kingdom, God has already described the spectacular beauty, the soaring grandeur, the disarming reconciliation and mutuality that God is setting before us in Jesus Christ. Hallelujah! Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.
Come quickly, Lord Jesus, that the light of your life may make known your lavish love to all you have made! Amen.