Thursday, December 08, 2005

Still a strange way to save the world

Joseph said, "Why me? I'm just a simple man of trade...
Why him, with all the rulers in the world?
Why here, inside this table filled with hay?
Why her? She’s just an ordinary girl…
Now I'm not one to second guess what angels have to say...
But this is such a strange way to save the world."

(4Him, "A Strange Way to Save The World,"
from their CD "The Season of Love")

Lately I've had the good fortune of some quiet time on the train to think about the arrival of our Savior on this earth. I heard the 4Him song above this morning, and it made me think of just how it might have been.

Several years ago, I was at a concert, and one of the songs the group performed was "Breath of Heaven," written by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton. The song is written from Mary's perspective, and is an extremely powerful tribute to the Incarnation - God taking flesh and coming to Earth - and how it must have been to be in the middle of that whole miracle. If you have not heard it, you have missed a very powerful image of how the first Christmas was.

The leader of the performing group gave a powerful testimony for "Breath of Heaven" before the musical set began. He said that he had never heard the song before picking it for their "Christmas Cabaret" - but he felt that it was a powerful reminder of how we are, compared to how Mary and Joseph were.

Then he reminded us all that as we prepare to celebrate Christmas with gifts and dining-rooms filled with hot food, and beautiful music sung inside brightly-lit churches surrounded by stained-glass, flowers, torches and candles...that the first Christmas was not that way at all. It was cold and homeless and messy and stinky and painful and lonely. The birth of the King of Kings
was done without pain-killers or antiseptic soap or Lamaze lessons. Just a teenaged unwed mother who was ready to deliver her child, taken in by a carpenter from Nazareth, who were both a long way from home, with no place to go. It wasn't pretty, and on the surface, the scene itself was anything but holy.

But even that ugliness is a powerful message - if we just choose to listen to it! Humanity, plus a stable, plus an unwed mother and a clueless carpenter, sounds like a plot for an episode of "Cops" - it’s probably not gonna end up pretty. But the same setting, the same people, and
the same situation in God’s hands creates a time of holiness, when the angels sing and strangers come to give praise. God sends a baby to save the world, and we wonder at the sacred insanity of the idea. An unwed mother - someone that might not even be welcome
in some churches, these days - becomes the source of the Light of the World.

If God can do that with Joseph, Mary, and a stable, what can God do with me? What can God do with US in our individual congregations, in our places of work, and in our homes? Can we really say, as Mary did, "Let it be according to God’s will"? I believe that answering that question can be the best thing we can do with our time while we’re "preparing the way for
the Lord."

Lord God, help me to continue to ask myself the question, and then try to not be afraid of the answer...


Anonymous said...

Thanks, brother, for a powerful take on the old story. I have heard this take many times, but your rendering makes it fresh.

Tom Scharbach said...

I've always found the the "Christmas story" fascinating, because it is such a mishmash of midrash, contradiction (did Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt or head off to the Temple for the circumcision and then return to Nazareth, for example) and religious imagery that bears little relationship to reality. It is, even more than the resurrection account, a wonderful example of how the early Church shaped accounts of Jesus' life to fit religious needs.

But the one thing about the story that rings true to me is the idea that Jesus was born in poverty, a nothing in a world where nothings counted for nothing, born of a mother who got pregnant outside her marriage, however that may have happened, whether through adultery or miracle.

You do a good job with bringing that grit to the story, Steve. Most Christians ignore it.