When I was a kid, my parents had an illuminated, blow-mold, plastic plug-in nativity set. Perhaps you recognize Mary’s shell-shocked expression (which I always though apt for a virgin who had just given birth), or Joseph’s daringly pink sash, or the baby Jesus’ odd, mid-ab-workout posture from the 90’s neighborhood you called home. They are truly a testament to the indescribable love of God showing up in our midst, don’t you think?
We would tuck ours in the rose garden, where they were visible from the street, but also capable of being secured by chains lest anyone consider stealing our joy. After a streak of vandalism in the neighborhood, my parents decided the best place to display the glory of the electric Emmanuel was on the roof, well beyond the reach of any who would cause harm to the Holy Family.
(That’s right – we had an electric nativity on the roof. Because we’re classy.)
My father had a system: he would tie a rope around a figurine’s waist, then take the end with him up the ladder to the roof, and raise them up, hand-over-hand. This worked okay for Mary and Joseph, but the unfortunate thing about the baby Jesus was that there weren’t a lot of places to tie the rope. One year, having gained a reprieve from dusting glass ornaments inside with my mother, I walked out of the house to help my father.
Unfortunately, my timing was poor, and I came face to face with Jesus’ somewhat bemused expression as he was hung by the neck from the eves of our home! I was so shocked I gasped, accidentally startling my father, who dropped Jesus’ noose. The precious infant crashed to the ground amid the bellows from the roof and my helpless laughter. We were relieved when we plugged him in and found his light had not been damaged in his tumble…
Christmas is funny.
Think about it: it involves all of the most colorful characters in your life gathering together, sometimes bellowing and sometimes laughing. If we could step back, it might make a good sitcom, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can range from painful to perfect and back again in a blink. You put out the decorations, you string the lights, you clean up and dress up and cook up a feast, but it’s still just people. We, the people God loves: loving and lovable, and also flawed, insulting, intolerant, cranky, anal retentive, lazy, passive, aggressive, passive aggressive, ignorant, idealistic, neurotic, superior, meddlesome, stubborn, self-righteous, and simply stressed. The ones who lock him into whatever box seems safest, and those who string him up in the process of their well-meaning worship.
This is the world Jesus was born into, and we are the people for whom God showed up. This Christmas we may be tempted to prettify that message and dress it up in all the best trappings we can think of, but I hope we are willing to simply tell the story and let Christ speak for himself. I would hate it if we locked down or strung up Jesus in the process of sharing the good news, like my well-meaning family with their synthetic stable scene.
The good news is that, as many times as we mess up Christmas, Jesus keeps showing up. As many times as we drop the ball (or baby, in this case), that light still keeps shining. Maybe he is still hoping we’ll get a glimpse of the kin-dom in the middle of the chaos, despite the chains we put around it to hold it down, or the ropes we use to heave it to whatever height we think it deserves. Maybe he is still hoping that just maybe, we’ll give him what he actually cares about for his birthday. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll love the world in all its messy brokenness, too. Maybe we’ll forgive the someone who knows all the right buttons to push to get a rise out of us, and maybe we’ll care more for someone else’s need than our own wants, and maybe we’ll find a way to speak a word of truth and grace to someone who desperately needs it. Because the irony of Christmas is that you have the opportunity to be the very presence of Christ we have been waiting for so long. The way you love may be how someone else experiences this beloved baby’s birth.
Christmas is funny like that.
A reflection by Kris Marshall