Christmas eve some of my older kids and I built a manger to put by the Christmas tree – something I have been wanting to do for a couple years. As we finished up the manger some new friends who recently rented the apartment above the old general store here on the farm came over with their kids as we all ate popcorn and ginger cookies and watched Charlie Brown Christmas and talked.
My wife and I stayed up late finishing up wrapping some gifts as we watched the film ‘The Nativity Story‘. Falling into bed details of the movie portrayal of the Christmas story danced in my head. Mary’s pregnancy was scandalous, Nazareth was a hotbed of political resistance, Herod was a bloodthirsty ruler afraid of losing the people’s subservience, angels were crossing the line between spirit and matter to announce the birth of the Messiah, an ancient prophecy aligned with stars in the heavens that drew kings to pay homage from the East – all these aspects of the story seemed so powerful – and I seem to have only ever managed to skim on the surface of it all. Have I become so familiar with the Christmas narrative that I have become desensitized to it’s reality?
I often have the overwhelming feeling during the Christmas season that somehow we are missing the power of what it means that GOD – the Creator took on flesh, took on weakness – became like us so that we could participate in Him and His coming New Creation. It is the most earth-shaking reality that often gets swept hastily along in a blur of yard ornaments and greeting cards. Even beyond Christmas – are we truly living out of this story – that our Creator has initiated a great divine conspiracy through Jesus to transform us from wayward rebels/enemies of His kingdom into His beloved children – which we truly were all along.
Think of this. All our violence, all our madness, all our greed, all our pride and haughtiness, all our hatred of others, all our religiosity, all our bitterness and unforgiveness, all our addictions, all our shame, all our wars, all our false idols, all the ways we try to earn our salvation or become like GOD, all our works, all our boasting, all our self-righteousness, all our hidden sins, all our denial – laid in a giant heap – in ancient Bethlehem (in Hebrew: ‘the house of bread’), – we throw all of it on the pile outside a dirty little stable (a barn!) and enter to find the King of the Universe in the form of a newborn laying in a feeding trough. Cows, sheep, donkeys and shepherds stand aside. Mary and Joseph motion you forward and you collapse next to the manger. Hot tears light up your face as your heart melts in the love of GOD.
I pray this Christmas that the power of what GOD has done through Jesus to reconcile us with Himself (and someday renew all things) will grip our imaginations – that the reality of the Incarnation will catch our greeting cards on fire and melt our yard ornaments to the ground as the power of the Holy Spirit hits us – and we realize that Mary and Joseph were not holy saints – they were normal everyday people like you and me – and in fact, if we are willing, we too are a part of the grand narrative of the Gospel and the story of GOD redeeming our world.
As Mary replied to the angel – so may we carry with us this agreement: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true” (Luke 1:38)
“This is about the birth of a child, not of the astonishing work of a strong man, not of the bold discovery of a wise man, not of the pious work of a saint. It really is beyond all our understanding: the birth of a child shall bring about the great change, shall bring to all mankind salvation and deliverance.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (GOD Is In the Manger)
Thank you to all our readers and friends out there – we look forward to journeying with you in the new year.
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