Monday, December 24, 2012

Musings on Christmas

Sometimes the Christmas story just sounds too much like that: a story.  It's got a setting, principal and secondary characters, a plot, a climax, a resolution that leaves room for a sequel.  Sometimes I fall into the routine around this time of year and even get swept along by the whole glorified aspect of the baby Jesus born to a virgin to save the world thing.  It sounds like it could be a movie, too, and guaranteed there are hundreds of movies out there about this very theme.  Approaching it cynically, it's enough to make one wonder about the validity and even the meaning of Christmas.  But what I need to remember is the fact that no matter how often human beings take this story and make it even more of a story, appealing to the general audience, it's more than just a story.

It happened.

Perhaps not on December 25, but still it happened.  Perhaps not with Mary riding into Bethlehem on a mule and pausing at different homes, taking her time to ask every single person if they could spare a room for the night, but it still happened.  Perhaps not with exactly three wise men or los tres reyes magos like we always see and have grown used to seeing, but still it happened.  Perhaps not with everyone lined up neatly around the manger in picture perfect lighting, baby Jesus sleeping silently in a pile of clean hay and tidy swaddling cloths, but still it happened.

In fact, we tend to glorify this event so much.  We forget that Mary was just a teenager, and probably freaked out of her mind for multiple reasons: a) she witnessed an angel come to her and tell her she would be pregnant (how many people see angels, again?), b) she was pregnant at a young age, c) she was pregnant by means that had nothing to do with normal conception, and d) she wasn't even married to Joseph at this point.  We forget that Joseph probably assumed that Mary had been unfaithful to him at first, and that he was probably furious with her for a little while before an angel also came to him and told him what was going on.  We also forget that Mary was very pregnant when she had to travel with Joseph to Bethlehem for the census, that they probably didn't have a mule available to them and they had to walk the entire way across treacherous terrain and probably without proper footwear (sandals, anyone?).  We forget that Mary could have begun to contract at any point during her arrival in Bethlehem and simply would not have had the time to amble around with Joseph looking for a neat little inn, and that odds are she just ducked into the nearest stable because nobody was willing to take in a stranger.  We forget that there were no painkillers.

We forget that this, in fact, definitely did not occur on December 25, since the fact that all the sheep were out in their pastures at night lends to the thought that it was probably springtime and mating season for them.  We forget that hundreds, if not thousands, of shepherds and magi who traversed miles to be able to see the Savior of the world in baby form.  We forget that King Herod tried to use this whole sequence of events to murder the child so that he would not overthrow Herod's reign (even though this was never Jesus's intention, since His kingdom "is not of this world" [John 18:38]) and in fact ordered all children under the age of two to be executed in order to try to avoid this possibility.

We forget that Jesus, though He was born entirely God, was also born entirely human, and human babies cry.  A lot.  We forget that a manger is a feeding trough, usually for pigs, and not the most sanitary location for a newborn baby.  We forget that Mary may or may not have anticipated Jesus's birth on this journey and therefore may or may not have thought to have brought clean cloths to wrap him in; in fact, from such a long journey, they were probably as dirty and sweat-ridden as she and Joseph, and the cloths may have been taken from their own backs.  We forget that Mary and Joseph probably hadn't eaten much of anything and had hardly slept any up to this point.

We forget why Jesus was even born to begin with.  We forget that God created humans and loved them as His favorite part of all creation, and yet we with our free will decided that we wanted to go our own way apart from God, and not live in relationship with Him, not listen to Him, not have anything to do with Him.  We forget that a rift created by such "sin" (anything that "misses the mark" of God's absolute perfection and relationship with Him, like a bullseye in a target) can only be filled and bridged by a deep, personal sacrifice of some sort, and that for centuries humans tried to make up for it with their own perfect animal blood sacrifices.  We forget that love came down to Earth, that God so loved the world that He gave the world Himself as His son that we might forever live with Him and be in perfect relationship again with Him through an absolutely perfect, eternal sacrifice to trump all others (John 3:16).  We forget that, ultimately, this is why Jesus was born: to die one of the worst deaths, if not the worst death, that humanity has ever recorded.

We forget that all of this is more than a story: It's history.  And we forget that grace is not just a gift given for the whole of humanity, but that it's also personal.  It's for me.  And it's for you.  He loves me.  And He loves you.  He loves you.  You.  Just as you are.  You, with all your imperfections.  You, with all your problems.  You, with all your unfulfilled goals and dreams and wishes.  You, not because of anything you've ever done or ever will do.  You, simply because you are.  Simply because He chooses to love you, because He thinks you're wonderful and marvelous and lovely and an incredible nuance of creation.

Let's consider this aspect reality of Christmas a little more, shall we?