Back Alley Advent

The Christmas story has got to be one of the weirdest stories ever told. An unwed teenage girl gives birth to God in an animal stable in the middle of the night. That’s an odd story. Not to mention, the dirty old shepherds that started showing up with their funky smelling sheep. I’m sure Mary was quite gracious. But let’s be honest, what if those dudes rolled up into your hospital room after you delivered your baby. That could get a little awkward. And what’s even stranger still is that each year we set up little reenactments of this event as decorations. Decorations!!! I don’t care what kind of ambiance you’ve got going on in your living room, a reenacted barn birth is a weird decor choice.  And then people look at these scenes and say, “How beautiful!”  Says you! You weren’t there. I’d be willing to bet that it was actually not so beautiful at all.  It was the modern equivalent to giving birth in a back alley or a beat up old Buick on the way to the hospital. Not to mention, Herod was on a killing spree, murdering all of the young Hebrew boys he could find (a detail often skipped in our bedtime story version). This is not the kind of scene that we would typically want to decorate our house with. It was a horrific and terribly inconvenient way for God to come to us. And to me, the absolute strangest part of the whole thing is this: He chose to do it this way.

God chose to come to us in this humiliating, uncomfortable and completely undignified way. For God to take on flesh and bone is humbling enough, but to think that he chose to stoop even lower than that is staggering. And to make the grand announcement of His arrival to just a few poor, homeless shepherds, that’s just ridiculous. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it just seems ridiculous because it stands in exact opposition to the way I live most of my life. There is something inside of each of us that is constantly pushing us towards making much of ourselves. Always trying to outdo each other. Always fighting to stand out from the crowd by being better, faster, stronger, more attractive. And in this story we find that God, who could have chosen to come in a glorious, majestic and all around impressive way, chose instead to come quietly in the middle of the night and take his very first breath in a smelly, old stable.

I guess it really is quite beautiful. In fact, it may be the most beautiful scene ever to grace this planet. It certainly wasn’t pretty and it probably wasn’t quite as clean and nice as our nativity sets and hallmark ornaments tend to make it look. But it was, in fact, quite beautiful.

5 thoughts on “Back Alley Advent

  1. Yes, it was certainly the most beautiful birth. I didn’t know where you were going with this one at first. Of course, many people think nativities are beautiful just because of the artistic styles, but we, as Christians know that it was beautiful because it represents and reminds us of the moment when God emptied himself and was born with the sole purpose of dying to pay for our sins.

    We have been going through an Advent family devotional book with the kids (“Just 25 Days ‘Til Christmas” by Rebecca Hayford Bauer) and we have been able to highlight with the kids all the details about the ugliness of the circumstances of Jesus’ birth as well as the horrific reasons why Joseph, Mary and young Jesus had to move to Egypt. It should be shared with our children from the beginning, that these sides of the story add to the beauty of our story as Christians, for it shows us the levels that God chose to lower himself to, in order to reach humanity and restore us back to Him. Paul writes to the Philippians about this kenosis; God’s emptying of self that we are called to imitate as believers. He says:

    “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very natureb of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8)

    The Son of God could have chosen to be born in accordance to the standards typical for a king… never mind the King of Kings!!! But he chose quite differently, and it all fits and leads to the purpose for which he came, not for external or material beauty, but to bring great splendor out of humility and sacrifice. What beautiful and amazing images of God entering into our realm!!!.

    On a side note, I wonder if the prosperity preachers have nativities of Jesus born on a Pottery Barn bassinet, with sateen sheets, on a luxurious hospital room with servants taking care of every aspect of His, Mary’s and Joseph’s needs. After all, Mary and Joseph were considered righteous and pure, Mary being chosen to carry God in her womb and Joseph to raise him as his own. Not only that, but Jesus was God himself; so they all deserved and were entitled to the best of God’s blessings. But, were they not blessed? Or did they not have enough faith or positive thinking to “take hold” of all that God had for them?… Hmmmm

    The beauty of the nativity scene as expressed in the Bible, as well as the beauty of Christ is not on the external circumstances, but on the great things that only God can do, and that he chooses to do it through the most unexpected (and most of the time, humble) ways. If it was up to us to reach God, we would try it the Babylonian style… building a tower to reach to the heavens, bringing our identity and accomplishments up high so that we are known. Still, we will never reach Him on our own. The good news of the Gospel shows us that HE came down to restore us back to him, for we could not lift ourselves from our own bootstraps. And he did it all not with great brilliance, but with great humility.

  2. Great example of the tradition we wrap around Christianity to make it palatable. If we peeled away all that we have layered Christianity with and followed scripture in the most straight forward way we could, what would it look like? Thanks for reminding us of the reality that is found in scripture and that it’s not the saccharine story we’ve made it.

  3. You two are quite a team. Thoroughly enjoyed reading all of that. Great perspective, eloquent story-telling, and most importantly Christ-centered.

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