If Then were Now

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from President Barack Obama that all the nation should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Jindal was governor of Louisiana. So, everyone went to be taxed, each from his own city. And Joseph also went up from Arkansas, out of the city of Springdale, to Louisiana unto the city of Mer Rouge, (because that’s where his family originated), in order to register with his fiancée Mary, who was nine months pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She brought forth her first-born son and wrapped him in some red shop rags and laid him in a cleaned-out sink behind the grease rack at the local Jiffy Lube, because there was no vacancy down at the Motel 8.

And there were in that same parish some cotton farmers, working on their John Deere hi-boys in the off season. They were out in the barn talking over coffee when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone all around them, and it scared them half to death. And the angel said, “Easy there, fellahs. For behold I bring you good tidings of a great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of Mer Rouge a savior who is Christ the Lord.”

Something about this seems almost sacrilegious, doesn’t it? Jesus being born in a small Louisiana town like Mer Rouge… Mary having him at the auto service station… The newborn child wrapped in shop rags… No way! Give me back the dignity of my nativity!

But consider this carefully. The real nativity was at least that grungy. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more demeaning start to life than the one Jesus had. Centuries have sanitized the manger. Countless Christmas pageants have glossed up the work-weary shepherds into satin-shrouded saints, the dirty food trough has become a cross between a cradle and an altar, and the pinprick of light that guided wayward astrologers to the little town has become a second sun bathing the evening sky in holy light.

In reality, the scene of Christ’s birth was about as undignified and unassuming as it could possibly be. And that is the power of it. When we clean it all up, we’re actually detracting from the majesty.

Wouldn’t a palace be more fitting for God? Shouldn’t this scene be limned with an aura of the supernatural? Our human answers are yes, so we tend to try to polish the stables into something they were not. God could have been born anywhere, but he chose the lowliest of circumstances. He was sending a message.

God didn’t come to impress us. He didn’t come to dominate us. He came to know us.

Jesus, God himself, took on human form to walk among us. And he did it in the most wonderfully humble way.

We sing the word “Immanuel” frequently this time of year.  Do you know what the name means?

“God with us.”

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