It occurred to me last Sunday how seldom I stop to consider the real life aspect of the story of Jesus’ arrival. We read the story and it is so compact. Recorded by men who wanted to cover the major events and spread the good news, not write a novel. Reading between the lines I am drawn to consider the relative upheaval Mary’s life must have gone through as she carried the child of God. What unnerving questions, what moments of doubt and restless waiting must have occurred. It says she pondered the angel’s words in her heat, but I am sure there were also questions of life and living. Between the supernatural events there was the everyday workings of life. The business of surviving and getting along. (As most women know, this isn’t always easy when pregnant!)
Then I thought about the people who came to visit Mary and Joseph at that vulnerable time right after Jesus’ birth. Shepherds. Not only strangers, but most likely smelly strangers. Using my imagination I suppose they were excited and a little crazy eyed on top of it all after the grandiose display the angels gave them. I think back to my own experience, having my boys in the warmth and quiet of my own home. How I wanted to keep those warm moment with my baby and my family to myself. Perhaps close friends could come visit after we were good and rested from the ordeal of birth. But strangers? No way!
How can I compare my own experience with the birth of Christ? Jesus was different. Surely Mary knew that. Jesus was not just a baby to be cuddled and enjoyed. He was the Savior. Destined for great and trying things which would tear at her heart. He was a man of sorrows, aquainted with grief, born to die for the sake of us all. But Mary, she was human. She was a woman, a mother, just like me. Before he saved the world, she had to feed him, change his diapers (or cultural equivalent thereof) and burp him. There were the years of watching him grow…what must it all have been like? Did she understand what was happening when he began his ministry? When he died? When he rose from the dead? How did she reconcile who he was, God incarnate, with the tender moments of motherhood that must have been nestled in her heart?
There is so much between the lines, so much that came before and that came after. As I sat and thought about all this I found myself dissatisfied with quaint little depictions of the nativity that is so popular this time of year. Contending that it did not show enough. It was too clean. Too cute. Too quaint. It seemed to me to encourage us to forget the reality of Christ.
Notwithstanding, not a week after all these thoughts I found myself making this very image as I tried to come up with a good Christmas card for a friend. Why? I ask myself. Especially when I thought so lowly of it just days before!
I’ll tell you what I think.
We like to clean things up. Make them more beautiful, more presentable than they are. To bring joy and cheer to ourselves and those around us. Life is dirty, stressful and full of trials. So we decorate, rearrange and find images of hope and beauty with which to surround ourselves. This part of us. The part of us that longs for something more, something better, though we’re not sure what it may be. This is the part of us that testifies of our need for salvation. We are trapped in our own humanity, our own messes and the messes of those around us. Jesus came to redeem us from all that. To clense us from the dirt of this world and our own sinful natures. He came to give us hope. He came to give us a future. The one we all dream of. Where we will not have to clean things up to hide reality, because reality itself with be unhindered beauty and perfection. We will not have to paste a smile on when we see people and pretend everything is okay. Everything will be okay. Every child of God will be reconciled to Him, to each other and to themselves. Peace will be on earth.
So, yes, the quaint little nativity doesn’t tell the whole story. But it can remind us. Remind me. That Jesus came to bring us the perfection we all crave.