Wednesday, December 22, 2010

אלוהים איתנו

From the moment I pulled our nativity scene from its box three weeks ago, I was struck by the seeming absurdity of it all.

Those little figurines representing the ones present for the birth of Emmanuel seemed so ridiculous standing next to the glitter and gold and the sparkle and shine of my other Christmas decorations.

They were plain.


Unimpressive and unsexy.

Mary especially caught my attention.

As a woman who recently gave birth the old-fashioned way, I'm shocked at her birth experience. The whole scene, made too familiar and taken for granted by our traditions and art, is actually quite scandalous. I find myself thinking about details that never occurred to me before. I wonder why Joseph didn't knock down the doors of that inn--surely my husband would have. I wonder if some compassionate woman heard Mary's cry and helped her labor--I cannot imagine giving birth (without epidural) without the mothering and comfort of another woman, much less my mother or best friend.  I wonder if they had enough clean linens and fresh water to cleanse the wounds of baby and mother.

This birth experience, far from the comfort, predictability and safety that I counted on last October, is how Jesus chose to enter our world. It wasn't sterile. It wasn't measured and planned and calculated. It wasn't even average, by that day's standards.

The only glory displayed was intangible. The only glitter came from a beaming mass of gas and rock millions of miles away. The only fanfare, the songs of a thousand angels, was received by an audience of dirty, homeless shepherds.

Long before his infant lungs fought for their first breath, Jesus intended to announce to us what we should and should not expect, simply by choosing this birth story. A King had arrived, yes. The angels and astronomers concurred. But, were we tempted to expect a typical king with a typical kingdom, this birth story allows us no justification.

The humility and offensiveness of Jesus, lying in a donkey's feeding trough, born to a teenage girl with a blue-collar husband who couldn't even secure a motel room, screams to us that




That should we want to appease our superficial natures in the quest for a Beautiful King, a Handsome-Brad-Pitt-Celebrity of sorts, or a Military Leader whose power would defy Rome, or a Religious Leader draped in robes of pomp and circumstance,

we would not find Him.

We would not find a King made of the trappings of this world, because that is not what we needed. We needed a God who would dare to take on our stench, become familiar with our sufferings and weaknesses, who would know our pain and yet, in his God-ness, transcend the ugly human-ness of it all.

The Nativity scene, the real one, the unvarnished, dirt-under-your-fingernails-scene announces that this God has a Great Agenda, one that won't flirt around with the fleeting comforts of fame, popularity and wealth. This birth scene sets up the ultimate scene--baby is grown, revealed to us as God-Man, and is bleeding out on a tree, receiving into his spirit the rebellion of humanity and all of its darkness--

that to all who look to him,

they might know light. and life. and true-Jesus-breathed-redemption.

Emmanuel, God-with-us. 

Let us find You, and be changed.


  1. Hey April! I don't know how I didn't see this blog before--glad to know you're doing well. Your two sons are beautiful. Merry Christmas!

  2. Hey Allie! Thanks so much! Your family is beautiful, too!

  3. Good post. A couple notes:

    1) There was no "inn." The reality seems to have been even more ordinary than that: they were likely with Joseph's family in the spare room. The word often translated "inn" is the same word used for the "upper room" later in Luke, and probably means something like "spare room" here. The verse is probably best rendered something like this: "And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no space in their place to stay."

    2) The manger was probably in the main room of the house, since that's where the manger was typically kept (with animals running through the house regularly). They didn't have modern-day stables, barns, or that sort of thing. But they didn't have so much as a small place to put Jesus in the little room in which they were staying, so into the manger he went.

    So your basic point is even more cemented -- his birth was wholly human, with nothing special to mark it beyond the embarrassment of having no place to be put except in an animal trough, low enough that it's about the last place one would ever look for the newly-born king.

    Oh, and both of your families are beautiful. It was great to see Jeremy at SBL this year, Allie!

  4. Thanks for enlightening me with those facts, Jason! I do remember reading something about the typical family home back then and what you wrote fits with that...Merry Christmas!