The First One... Wasn't....
The first Christmas wasn't one. No, this isn't a rant against materialism or the recycling of pagan holidays. This is a collection of some of my reflections this day as we prepare for Christmas Eve and then the big day itself.
1. We never hear about Mary's parents. Did they disown her when she was found "with child" and before her official marriage to Joseph?
2. Was it rumors and inuendo that drove Mary to visit her cousin, Elizabeth? I would imagine that rumors were thick in the air and that they never fully died down. Later writers would atrribute the conception to a Roman soldier. Was Mary ever able to show her face in "respectable" society without being the recipient of smirks and dirty jokes?
3. Being the mother of Jesus probably ruined her life in many ways. Not only did her reputation die in some circles (and we have no idea what happened to that old guy she married. He probably died... but did he just leave?), she had to raise the Son of God -- no easy task -- and then witness the horrible cruelties inflicted on him.
4. Barns stink. Mangers are unsanitary. The first nativity scene wasn't a nativity scene, if you know what I mean. It would have smelt of manure, urine, blood, and straw. The air would have been full of dust and chaff. Without saying more -- have you ever witnessed a birth? There were no backlights or or halos here, no swirling angels singing with harps. The barn held pain, darkness, and confusion.
5. When we scrub the manger scene down with Lysol, place floodlights on the participants, make them white, comb their hair, and surround them with stars and adoring shepherds and animals we make Christianity a Nordic myth and rob it of its true power: for in all that dirt, pain, blood and dust was the Son of God, Emmanuel, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And that means that our messy lives can still host that same King.
6. Two people have given me Norman Rockwell themed gifts already this year. I asked my wife last night: do we give people the impression this is what our life looks like? Truth be told, it is far closer to the manger scene than anything Rockwell ever painted. But the Messiah is here, so all is well.
7. I love the lights, the trees, the crowded stores. I love the snow (although I am tired of it shortly into the New Year). I love the cards and family letters from people we've known through the years. I LOVE giving presents but am always awkward at receiving them. I love the ornaments. ...but...I always remember that the first Christmas didn't look like this. It looked more like life does. That gives me comfort beyond words.
Oh... and that "recycled pagan holiday" thing so many harp on? Sure -- there used to be some pagan holidays that have some aspects in common with our celebration. But it doesn't belong to the pagans anymore. It's ours. We took it for Jesus and we're not giving it back. We did the same thing to tombstones, wearing white at weddings, wedding rings, the names of the days of the week and a hundred other things. They used to be pagan but they are ours now. Because what happened at that first Christmas changed everything. Forever.
Tidings of comfort and joy, indeed.