It’s right about dawn Christmas Eve morning. All is still and calm. I love this time of the morning when the whole day is full of possibility. What I’m chewing on is… birth. Specifically the birth of Jesus.
Thousands, maybe millions, will gather in churches today and this evening to give thanks for and celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who Christians believe is Lord and Savior. There will be candles, choirs, and communion. There will be singing, scripture, and sentiment. It will be a time for families to cuddle in pews and friends and strangers alike to pass the peace with one another. It will be a time of great joy and good will. And, perhaps, party dresses.
There will be talk of singing angels and amazed shepherds. Of presents and adoration. Of the world changing forever for the better because of this miracle birth. It will all seem so holy and beautiful. And clean.
I love the beauty of Christmas Eve service as much as anyone else and, as a preacher, I live to bring good news. All of our worshiping and celebrating will be done in earnest devotion. This morning, though, I’m wondering what would Mary be pondering in her heart if she came to a Christmas Eve service today. Would she even recognize what we’re celebrating? This morning I’m wondering what this event would have been like for her.
First of all, in the honor and shame society in which Mary lived, being pregnant before marriage would not have left her in good standing around town. Today it is pretty much seen as no big deal but I remember in the late sixties when a friend of mine’s sister got pregnant it was scandalous! I doubt anyone had given Mary a baby shower. And, while Joseph had been clued in on the significance of what was happening, there had to have been all kinds of awkward conversations happening between he and Mary and friends and family. I wonder if the call for census and the trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth may have come as a welcome diversion from their uncomfortable situation in town.
It was a little less than a hundred mile journey for them to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Walking! This wasn’t a vacation. This was civic duty and hard traveling. Mary might have been riding on a donkey. Either way, traveling when you are eight or nine months pregnant would have been more than a little uncomfortable. I remember the night before Lauren was born walking across the room was an event! I felt I was going to expel a bowling ball at any moment. Not exactly like the graceful Mary you see in church Christmas pageants!
There were no four star hotels for them. No spa day for Mary to be refreshed. Just walking and depending on the kindness of strangers. Which, fortunately, was the expected culture of the day. One’s honor was tied in to how well they showed hospitality. Even so, they ended up having to sleep in a barn.
Which brings us to the whole manger scene. It all seems so serene when we’re singing about it in hymns. No crib for his bed. The little Lord Jesus lays down his sweet head. I’ve never sung a Christmas hymn that talked about how uncomfortable that must have been for Mary. How much it must have stunk from the animals. How unclean it must have felt. Between the animal sounds, mooing, baaing, roosters crowing, and primal birth cries, I can imaging it was anything but a hallelujah chorus.
Enter pesky, nosy, stinky shepherds. A visit from them would not have been considered a thing of class. And, with them, came more stinky animals.
And, from birth, came a crying baby. He might be Lord someday but, as a newborn, he was like all other babies. Precious, crying, hungry, messy. Demanding. I can only imagine what Mary was really pondering in her heart…
I sit here in the comfort of my home, listening to Christmas music playing softly in the background, drinking hot coffee, and looking at presents wrapped under the tree. I realize how different the original nativity scene was from the pretty ones I have scattered around my house. Even stretching my imagination to its fullest I can, in no way, comprehend the chaos, discomfort, fear, and confusion that would have been experienced on that birth day of our Lord.
And yet, I can, in this moment, reflect on all the times in my life when I have experienced the chaos, discomfort, fear, and confusion of being human in this beautiful and broken world. Times when I felt the full brunt of the messiness of life. Times when I knew no solutions to the situation and the best I could do was ponder in my heart and hope that Someone was in this with me. And, Someone, always was. And some new dimension of my life was always born because of it. Some new insight. Some new strength. Some new purpose…
Which makes the whole unclean messy birth of Jesus so much more relevant. An act of grace! I’m thankful for it all. Thankful that, through all of the uncertainty, discomfort, confusion, noise, and pain of the birth of Jesus, Love came to us as a newborn baby. Thankful this same Love continues to break through even now.
As I sing the hymns tonight, as I pray and pass the peace tonight, as I preach tonight, as I hold my family tight in the comfort and beauty of it all, I will once again be reminded there is nothing I will ever experience, no pain, no loss, no uncertainty, no confusion, no noise, that I will face alone. You either. We are forever wrapped in the swaddling clothes of a Love that will never let us go. And through it all we are continuing to be born in Love again and again.
Merry Christmas everyone! May it be on earth as it is in heaven.
Something to chew on….