We hear so often about how awful it was that there was no room in the inn, how lowly it was for Jesus to be born in a manger, etc. etc. And lately people are saying we’ve put way too much romance into it all.
Okay, so I realize it wasn’t the best situation. However, I don’t really believe it was as bad as all that–and really not as bad as I’ve pictured for our “modern” Christmas story. Here’s what it was: normal. Do you think Jesus was the only baby born in a stable, way back then? I wonder…
It’s funny, but sometimes I hear about something that Jesus said or did, and someone saying “well, that’s just what they always did back then…” For example, it was quite normal for a rabbi/teacher to go around with a band of followers. (That’s just the example that comes to mind.)
It reminds me (well, actually I just read it again the other day :P) of one of my favourite verses. I had it memorized from the KJV as a kid, and now I’ve pretty well got it memorized from The Message, I’ve shared it so often:
“So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life–your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life–and place it before God as an offering.” (Romans 12:1)
It’s not that God will suddenly change your life into something extra-ordinary, but he’ll help you to see that it’s not quite as boring as you thought… and that he’s been there all along. And yes, maybe he will inject some excitement into it.
So here we are, a young couple in the homeless shelter with their newborn baby, being interrupted by all these rough-speaking truck drivers gathering around.
And now what I’ve managed to do, is take all the charm out of the story.
They do say that we’ve made quite the romance out of The First Christmas. To me, the idea of hay and animals nearby, shepherds coming in etc., seems delightful. But of course, “delightful” is not what it was! In fact, this is a depressing kind of situation.
I saw a cute animation about depression yesterday, calling it a “black dog” in your life. This dog is always around, and often it gets so big that it’s hard to manage. But it’s possible to deal with it, and even learn from it. Then the dog becomes quite small.
One of the first things it talks about doing, in order to deal with depression, is exercise! It seems to me that would be hard to begin when you’re depressed… much better to be in the habit of it already. Another thing the cartoon mentions, is something I’ve heard counselors advise before: every day, write down something you’re thankful for.
Today I’m thankful for loving family and friends: who can hold you when you need holding, and hold you up when you feel like falling.
This week’s people: shepherds. If The First Christmas happened today, who would be the shepherds?
So here we are in the Homeless Shelter, with the brand new baby God. Who would be the “scumbags” that come running in to see him? If it was the druggies out on the street, everyone would think they’d been hallucinating those angels. (Yeah, a hallucination that they all saw at once, and agree on the message?)
Wait a minute though… the shepherds were actually employed. Stinky maybe, but employed. Maybe “shepherds” would be the waiters and waitresses, hotel cleaning staff?
The great thing about this exercise is that it’s making me really think about each of these aspects of that story. How many shepherds were there, I wonder? I’ve always thought there were quite a few, but how many would there really have been, in those hills of Judea? Somehow I don’t think you need as many shepherds as cattle-drivers… And how many flocks of sheep would have been scattered around those hills? No, I bet it was a smallish group, maybe 3 to 5?
One song suggests that the shepherds had a job that kept them away from their families, making them a lonely bunch. This triggers something in my mind…
Out on the lonely highways near Toronto, late at night, we zoom into a truck stop… where there are a group of truck drivers gathered around their coffee….
Before we leave Mary (and Joseph), let’s not forget to mention her theme: Sacrifice.
Their reputation was only a very small part of that sacrifice, I think. After all, God could have made his mother someone who wasn’t even engaged to be married. Instead, he told Joseph to marry her right away, for her protection, we assume.
Mary would have enough to deal with later. “A sword shall pierce your soul…” Yes, there would be separation. That’s hard, but a normal sacrifice–one mothers are constantly making as their child grows up, becomes more and more independent, leaves home, etc.
They say the hardest grief, is to lose a child in death. I’m pretty sure there’s one harder: to watch your child suffer. I know I’ve failed on that before, having to leave the room when Sam underwent an uncomfortable procedure. And other memories that I turn away from (appendicitis, etc.).
What Mary had to see her son suffer…
For the sake of all who suffer.
We’ve spent some time with our characters for The First Christmas, now it’s time to think about the setting. Remember that we’re trying to imagine what it would be like if it happened today…
“Ceasar” isn’t likely to make everyone travel back to their hometown for a census. But what was God’s purpose in that? Perhaps Bethlehem had been chosen because of it’s smallness? Maybe it was important for Mary and Joseph to be “alone in a crowd”, to show God’s grace? There were all kinds of reasons, I’m sure!
Today, you could certainly be “alone in a crowd” in downtown Toronto. Plus, you could find some places there “lowly” enough to be our “born-in-a-stable” scene…
So, Sam has been told by the angel in a dream, to get busy and marry Devon–quickly! And each of them being close to their families, they would not want to favour one side over the other, to live with them like young couples often do these days. So they might find some cheap rooms to rent downtown… but eventually they run out of money (about 9 months later), and get kicked out. They are too ashamed to tell any of this to their families, soooo….
They end up in a Homeless Shelter! How’s that for “born in a manger”?
“They were so absorbed in their “God projects” that they didn’t notice God right in front of them…” (Romans 9:32)
Did anyone notice that God had just been born? Pretty obscure really, I mean, babies are always being born–then as well as now. WELL! Stay tuned for what happens next!! :P
We’ve already made a small mention of Mary’s song. I wonder if it was the kind of song that could be “belted out”? She was certainly full of joy and amazement!
And you might know, that my choice for “today’s Mary” can really belt out a song! No wonder I get excited every time I hear her sing, plus the fact that it’s beginning to feel like Christmas when she sings for us, since we always just have to have her on our Christmas Letter DVD. In fact, I should try to get her to do “Sing Mary, Sing!” next time–a number that would suit her, giving her a chance to really “belt it out”!
Music is so important. The other day I read this:
“There are more songs about Jesus Christ than anything or anyone else, even love. Christianity is a singing faith! That’s why you need to be a part of a local church. It’s not just about listening to a weekly message from the Bible. At least once a week, you need the emotional expression that comes from singing thanks to God. If you don’t, your heart will shrivel. You can’t be a healthy Christian on sermons alone. You need both the impression from the message and the expression through the music.” (Rick Warren)
That was the second or third time, in a few days, that there was something about being part of a local church… made me feel kind of… lonely? lost? longing? Even though we’ve only just begun our church-search (though hopefully we won’t take too long about it!)
Posted in Journal
We’ve heard the story sooooo many times. This is why I like to make you think about it like this, like it was really happening today. Feel what they likely felt, that First Christmas. And of course, it will take some creativity, since things are so different today than they were then.
In some ways, things are the same. I’m sure there were certain types, whom people would not have been surprised to hear about a little hanky-panky going on. Joseph though, was considered “upright”. Same thing today–there are people whom you might be shocked to find out that a baby was on the way… Imagine too, the shock and embarrassment of the couple involved! We always talk about that as far as Mary and Joseph, but if you think about someone you actually know…. hmmm…. poor Sam! ;) And his Girl–how would she explain it to him?! Would it be any use trying to explain that God told you, that the Holy Spirit created that fetus without the help of a man? A dilemma for sure!
My devotionals this morning talked about Mary’s humility. By the way, a quiet, afraid-to-speak up person is NOT humble. In fact, such a person is afraid of how they might seem to others: pride if you ever saw it!
“…Those who trust God’s action in them find that God’s Spirit is in them – living and breathing God! Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.” (Romans 8:5-6)
Tomorrow: about singing…
It’s not really “actors” I’m looking for, since actors play characters other than themselves. What’s actually going through my mind as we do this exercise, is “who would The Christmas Story happen to, if it happened today?”
Again, my choice is perfect, for my particular circle. Yesterday I focused on Mary, what about Joseph? Joseph was an upright man… and Sam is sometimes more “upright” than his parents! In fact, he is actually very upright, by today’s standards… we’ve had instances among relatives, where people were a little “shocked” that he & Sweet Girl were actually sleeping in separate beds. These days, it’s just assumed that if you’re going steady with someone (old term, I know!) you sleep with them.
Joseph was so upright, that he didn’t know what to do when he found out his fiance was with child. Yet, he was also gentle, and didn’t want harm to come to her.
But never mind that. I wonder how we would feel, if we found out that… ahem… that a baby was on the way?
Before I tell you who this week’s people are from The First Christmas, let me explain why I haven’t posted in so long: Christmas Letter 2013.
It’s so much fun to create with today’s technology! Hand-written letters can be just as creative, but each era has it’s own talented people who are better able than others to work with the medium. And I’m no good at “movie-making”, for sure, but the technology makes me look better than I am. ;) In fact, I’m not really adding a lot of extra-stuff to this year’s letter… it’s not just that the fad wears off, but we all talk enough that the work is in trying to keep it short! However, I’m amazed at how well things are going with it this year–even though it doesn’t seem like it sometimes. Soon it will be done, already!
Now back to our Advent fun. This week you can think of who you know, who would be good for: Mary and Joseph. I’ve already got mine picked out!
We usually picture Mary as being a gentle, lowly sort. Perfect in every way (in fact, some do believe she was perfect.) When you think of other people whom God chose though, I have my doubts about this traditional view of Mary. Remember who was Jesus’ great-great (or something like that) grandmother: Rahab the prostitute. Not even an Israelite! And think of David, that lady-lover, who lusted so much that he had to kill for it. God loves to show how much he loves people, no matter what.
In fact, I’ve known some pretty feisty Jewish girls. I bet Mary was the kind who wasn’t afraid to speak up for herself. Probably pretty smart too, unless it was simply the Holy Spirit who brought to mind that scripture that she quoted in her song. “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!”
Oh yeah, singing! Yep, my choice is perfect: Sam & his feisty Sweet Girl!
Now if you’re having trouble thinking of someone to be your prophets in the First Christmas story, let’s also remember that not all of them were weird. Some of them were quite ordinary. Take Jonah, for example.
Not only did Jonah say “no” to God’s command at first, he was… well, he may have been racist. At the least, he was proud and unforgiving. He didn’t want to look bad when his prophecy didn’t come true, because the Ninevahites would repent and God would forgive them and not carry out His anger. Jonah just knew that would happen, and he didn’t think these non-Jewish people deserved forgiveness. Like I said: proud, unforgiving, racist. Yep, quite ordinary, Jonah was!
My favourite part though, of the story of Jonah, was how he called to God from the “depths” of despair–way down deep inside the belly of the whale. That’s even further and darker than just being swallowed by the waves! AND, God had actually prepared that despair, er… that whale. (After all, it could have been worse.)
And now we’ve brought in a little darkness, into this Season of Joy… which I think is a good thing. Let’s not forget, to think of those whose depths of darkness is so sharpened at this time of year. They may have lost someone recently (like in the last few years–hey, it’s recent for them!) Or, something terrible might have happened right around this time, and it has forever changed how they feel in this season. Please pray for them. May they call out to God from the belly of the whale.