I have a fun task this afternoon – creating some palace scenery for King Herod in our Christmas Eve family service this year. True panto style I’m imagining going big, bold and dramatic… he was known as Herod the Great after all…. ‘Oh no he wasn’t!, Oh yes he was!’. We even have a panto camel waiting to join in this year, can’t wait.
Looking back into history it’s hard to grasp just how vulnerable a baby was, even born into a palace with guards for safety; servants to keep fires going and wood stores full; money for blankets, clothes, and beds; well educated advisers to help; it must have been precarious for the newborn and the Mum. Harder still to imagine the dangers for a baby born outside a palace in an ordinary home, or less. Imagine the dangers of having a newborn at a time when the kings whims were law. Of course Herod the Great could order that all baby boys under the age of two be killed in and around Bethlehem so he could keep a tight hold on his power.
When I think of the vulnerability of how Jesus came to us it astounds me. That the Son of God should hold so loosely to his home in heaven and come to earth in this way (as a baby born into a situation with little political and material security and minimal life expectancy, on top of the innate vulnerable dependence of being a baby) is unbelievable, isn’t it? It fills me with wonder and astonishment that he should be born among us like this, just the same as us, just the same as the least of us – us at our most vulnerable.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (NIV Lk 2:6,7)
Christmas with all it’s excitement and busyness, with it’s celebrations, family gatherings, feasts and presents seems a far cry from the moment Mary gave birth to Jesus. We had a card this year with a poignant and provocative picture of the manger in the foreground of a merry-go-round scene, busy with people and noise. It brings home to me the seemingly stark contrast between Jesus’ birth and what Christmas today seems to look like.
Yet perhaps emotionally it’s not dissimilar. Christmas seems to bring into sharp focus our feelings of insecurity. Will the money stretch, can we get the gifts we want/feel we need to get? Will family all get along when we meet up or will it feel fraught with tension? Have we got enough food in, have we got everything we need? Is my house big enough, good enough for visitors? Are my relationships secure and content? Am I safe? Am I alone? Am I seen? Am I understood? Do I belong? Why does life feel so hard when everyone else’s life looks like a party? Christmas can make us feel our vulnerability. We yearn for home – the home that’s perhaps in our imagination, where there is harmony, peace and love, where every little detail is perfect and safe and cosy. That’s certainly not our real experience. Even putting up our tree this year triggered a meltdown that took a good couple of hours to calm.
Difficult family dynamics, hard to manage meal times and bed times still happen despite Christmas and feel worse because of it! Meltdowns and shutdowns don’t stop for the holidays, in fact they tend to increase in frequency because of the bombardment of sensory input, and lack of routine – not to mention the number of people coming and going and the demands of increased social interaction. The stresses of the logistics of family life and church life seem to be at their worst at these times as we juggle all the extras that we all throw in because it’s Christmas. The pressure we put on ourselves to make it all amazing and good enough for everyone presses our I’m-not-good-enough buttons. And we keenly feel the losses; loved ones who have died, traditions we always hoped for that are simply impossible for us, family moments we have imagined but have yet to realize.
Jesus came into the midst of all that. The uncertainty, the sadness and grief for what’s lost; the insecurities within us and around us; and into the midst of the hopes and longings. He came and made his dwelling among us – not at a respectable distance where he was less vulnerable but right there at the heart of real, everyday, ordinary human experience. He came into it to reach us, to meet us where we are, despite the dangers, despite taking on vulnerability because of love. He came as a baby to be one of us and died our death to break it’s power. His love was strong enough to come to us, strong enough to free us, strong enough to gather us into his family through the new life he offers. The story of the baby born, fully God fully human, God making his dwelling place in the midst of our everyday is a story of hope. He entered into the insecurity and vulnerability of our existence to find us and love us all the way back home to him.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. (MSG Col 1:19)
In all the moments of insecurity, worry, stress, and difficulty this Christmas the story invites me to see again the truth that Jesus gets it, he understands it; he faced it too so he could have the chance to whisper ‘I love you, you are so precious to me’. (Even when everything is a muddle;when children don’t appear to listen when you read the stories about me; when people get along – and when personal space gets invaded, again; when you stay in with one child who doesn’t want to be out in the snow, and when you’re dealing with the over cold children who did go out to play; when there’s a meltdown; when you worry about the child hiding in their room; when the food’s just not right…. I love you, you are so precious to me.)