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.