Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Not So Silent Night

Silent Night
Holy Night
All is calm
All is bright
The cattle are lowing the poor baby wakes,
The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes...

What do you imagine the manger scene was like?  I like singing both Silent Night and Away in a Manger, but I am suspicious about the picture they draw.  Few of the times when I was present at the birth of a new baby has the picture been "calm."  Okay, maybe after baby has been given a bath, had his hair washed, is wrapped in clean clothes and swaddled in a receiving blanket and asleep, there's "calm."  For about 5 minutes until his tiny newborn tummy is empty and he's mewling for milk!  As for Mary and Joseph, first time parents with no helpful nurses, no newborn bath-tub, no Johnson's and Johnson's Shampoo, "calm" isn't the word I think of.  And don't get me started on the "no-crying-he-makes" scenario.

The incarnation of God was messy business-messy on purpose. He could have chosen a palace and a princess.  Instead he went for a tiny town, an unwed mother, and tax season.  His birth announcement was made by incredulous shepherds.  His baby gifts came by Wise Men express. We should be careful how we think about Jesus.  It's really easy to sing about his birth and forget His humanity as we see His holiness.

In fact, there's no kind of contact with God that isn't at least a little messy.  That's because God has a habit of starting people out with worship and then sending them out to work.  He sent a heavenly choir to sing to the Shepherds and then sent them into town to spread the good word.  He invited Isaiah up into heaven to ordain him a prophet to a people who would never listen (Isaiah 6). He joined Moses for a 40 day conference on leading the holy people of God, then sent him down the mountain where a calf-worshiping orgy was in progress.  There's no way to come into His presence and not be sent out to obey His will.  That is always messy because it always involves people.

I, for one, am glad for the mess. When God decided to be born in a stable and laid in a manger He came down, in every possible way: down from heaven, down from being God to being a baby, down from being a prince to being a pauper, from creator to created, down to where we live.  He was willing to enter the mess. He is still willing to come into our messed up lives and be incarnated in His church (John 14:20, 1 Corinthians 12:27).  His holiness is in no way diminished by our disasters.  "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses" (Hebrews 4:15).

When Silent Night comes up on the playlist you can bet I'll be singing along. I'll croon off-tune to Away in a Manger as well.  But I'm glad the night wasn't silent.  I'm glad for the baby who howled in the darkness, the bustling new mom trying to keep him safe and warm, and the shepherds who tromped in from out of the fields.  I'm glad that God came down into our messy, noisy world to be our Savior.

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