Christmas is often anticlimactic; it’s rarely as intense as the preparation. Even reading Luke 2 can be perfunctory and tedious, especially when there are gifts to be opened, fun to be had.
I imagine Mary knew a bit about tedious, anticlimactic events. After an arduous journey to Bethlehem, she gives birth, perhaps in a stable because Joseph’s people apparently had no room for his (ahem) pregnant fiancé. That lonely, lowly delivery sits in stark contrast to the angel-from-God-highly-favored-overshadowed-by-the-Holy-Spirit message. Rather vulgar way to begin her tenure as mother to the King of Kings, don’t you think?
Fortunately, things look up a bit with the star-and-shepherds scene a few verses later, followed by–much later than the children’s church skit allows–the super cool visit from the wise men, gifts in hand. Nice, expensive gifts.
But barely is the wrapping paper off than the young family gets another angel message: Run. Now. Satan is playing Herod like a fiddle, determined to end the royal toddler’s life. They run. Jesus is spared. Others are not. The collateral damage is devastating: Mothers weeping for their children, refusing to be comforted. Surely, our Mary wept with them. And just as surely Simeon’s words began to take shape for her: “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”
For many years, that sword hung on a thread above her head. We regard her as “highly-favored” and “blessed among women,” but Mary’s dread must have been building as her son–because that’s what he was to her, not yet her King or her savior, her son–began to attract crowds of followers and factions of haters.
And then the day came when the sword dropped. That day, Mary was not visited by angels or comforted by titles or envied by her peers. That day, all the years of teaching, training, praying, and loving must have lost their luster. That was her child, innocent and good, being humiliated and tortured and mocked and murdered. This is favor? Her soul pierced?
This is favor. Our souls pierced. Our hearts revealed as hard and impatient. Our celebrations exposed as shallow and self-serving. This Christmas, every Christmas, we must remind ourselves that it wasn’t a cradle that delivered us but a cross.
I’ve heard it said that our Lord borrowed a womb and a tomb…and houses and mules and upper rooms. Nonsense. It’s his world. And he didn’t end up in a manger because the world refused him its best, but because its best was no better. Without his presence, nothing–palace or stable–is good. But glory, honor, and fullness of joy are in his presence.
What beauty there is exists because he shows up–not in the glitter or in the gold, not in the feast or in the fire, not in the lights or in the laughter, but in the empty places, the dirty places, the dark and hungry and hurting places. He shows up in the loneliness and the lowliness and the longing, when the merry is over and all that’s left is the mess.
When he shows up, invite him in. He is literally the life of the party.
And he’s really, really good at cleaning house.
That’s the word. I’m a witness.