Every year around Christmastime I find myself struggling as a pastor and as a devoted student of the Scriptures to live into a tension. You see the story that we just read is 2,000 years old by now. It has been told billions of times to billions of people and it has come to mean so much to so many. Rulers and authorities have made world changing decisions based off of this story. Therefore, every year at Christmas time we sing about it and tell the story as reverently as possible. We try our hardest to respect it. We write clever lyrics filled with as much meaning as we can pack into a few stanzas. We sing those songs reverently, softly and slowly in the hopes that they will invite us to gape with awe again.
We prettied up and sanitized the manger scene in our nativities. Sure we have the basic elements of the text but we added a little bit of a glow to Mary’s face and put her kneeling comfortably. Joseph has that father’s smile that shows an inner peace. The animals are even bowing their heads in apparent worship and we put them on the corner of the scene so they do not disrupt the baby. The shepherds are behaving themselves and keeping their distance. The sheep are standing still. Then we put an angel on top of the whole thing to show that this was a godly event.
But everybody who has ever given birth knows you don’t exactly get up from that and put on clean robes and kneel in hay on one knee. I am just saying it takes a day or two for birthing moms to get there.
Those of us who work with animals know they don’t exactly respect boundaries. Mammals, human beings included, are rather curious creatures. Let us be honest, the donkey would be sniffing baby Jesus and these sheep would probably be wandering off to some hilltop, not sitting still.
That means Joseph would be nervous as can be. No silent peace from him, just stressed out nervousness. He would not have a peaceful look on his face or his hand over his heart. He would be frantic. He would be trying to take care of his wife, trying to push the animals back and trying to be a good host to these random teenage shepherds that showed up out of nowhere.
And let us talk about teenage shepherd boys. Anybody who has ever hung out with teenagers knows that there is always one that wants to hold the baby. Teenagers will take a baby out of your hands without asking. There was probably at least one shepherd, we will call him Steve for fun, who kept asking, “Can I hold the baby? Now can I hold the baby? Joseph, the baby is so precious, can I hold him? Mary, why you won’t let me hold the baby?”
“Hey Steve, if you want to help you know what you can do? You can go get that sheep that is wandering up that hillside over there!”
“Oh sure Joseph, I can do that! Let me go get him but after I do can I hold the baby?”
“No, you CAN NOT HOLD THE BABY!!!!” Mary probably slapped him.
If there was an angel sitting on top of the stable or the cave, looking down at the scene, Joseph was probably looking up at it saying, “hey can you, like, help? Will you get down here and do something! You are an angel for crying out loud! I read your job description in the Old Testament and you are supposed to help! Can you keep the donkey away or do a juggling act to distract Steve, please! Please help! I am begging you to HELP!”
That is the tension. This event saved the world and saves the world and will save the world and yet every year I have to get up here and make the point that this event was not a “silent night.”
It was chaotic. It was gross. It was messy. There was no small amount of physical pain involved, mostly for Mary. Then there was the emotional pain as well. This baby was born tonight and He has all ready cost Mary and Joseph everything. This baby had angels sing and family leave. “He isn’t my nephew. My brother Joseph would never do something like that. He isn’t our grandson, can’t believe Joseph doesn’t agree.” “We always knew that Mary was a tramp.”
This baby is King but there is another king. He is a tyrant king whose name is Caesar. He can issue a decree of the known world that says I have to up and move to my hometown and stay there for an undisclosed amount of time until his census guy shows up. The census guy is kind of like the cable guy. He could be here tomorrow. He could be here 2 or 3 years from now. But Caesar issued a decree that says I have to stay here and if I am not here when he shows up and someone tattles on me I go to prison or pay a fine. All so that this Caesar, whom I will never meet but who nevertheless is “King of the World,” can stroke his ego by bragging about how many people are subjected to him. King Caesar’s decree meant the true King of the World is born in a cave and placed in a manger instead of born in the comforts of home and placed in a crib his father, the carpenter, had probably made for him.
So here we are tonight Jesus is finally here. But this cave is smelly and gross. The animals are wandering off or trying to sniff Baby Jesus and Steve the shepherd wants to hold the baby and the angel won’t help and Mary is so exhausted she can’t even stand. You ever have days like that?
It was not a silent night but, oh goodness, it was divine. It was holy. It was marvelous.
It wasn’t sanitary but it purifies our hearts. It wasn’t comforting but it has comforted millions. It wasn’t painless but it takes our pain away. It wasn’t ideal but it is everything God intended from before the creation of the world. This cave was dark but it held the light of the world.
Will you gape again in awe and amazement at this messy manger and the messy, nosy, hurting people and animals surrounding it? Will you marvel as you wander away from it at the reality that this is God’s plan of salvation and restoration for the entire cosmos? And every day of this next year, every day or your life, will you sing about it, proclaim it and share it with your friends and family and neighbors until that day when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that this baby is Jesus Christ the Lord? And will you let the light of the world fill up your dark, noisy, chaotic, messy cave?