The Gospel According to Luke gives us snapshots of the backdrop to THE story and it goes something like this,” About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire.” Ah, yes, politics, world leaders, and the empire! So, in a way some things haven’t changed. What the rich and powerful want they tend to get. And in case you missed the memo, we are the ones living in the empire!
Well Mary and Joseph made it to Bethlehem of Judah to fulfill their civic duty. What an uncomfortable trip that must have been. There they were, riding upon a donkey, with no paved road, no clean bathrooms on the way, and no room in a motel when they arrived. Ah! The magic of Christmas! You know the rest, right? She gave birth in an open barn (I first saw this as a grade school lad in a church play so I know it’s the real deal) and today in my imagination, my friend Nicole is there because she served as a birth doula before entering nursing school.
Not too far from the barn, just over the hill there are shepherds watching their sheep, because…that’s what shepherds do. They are protecting them from wolves, bears, lions and making sure they didn’t go wandering off to…wherever sheep wander.
The angels appear and breakout in song, the shepherds are inspired to go see the baby and the family, the cow, the goat, a sheep, and the doula. Upon leaving they go out and tell everyone about the whole deal. It’s interesting don’t you think that the responses from the people they told this tale to are not recorded. We could have some fun with that one! These are shepherds after all. These are men with, well not the best of reputations.
Now watch this…it’s got to be a pain in the posterior to travel as a pregnant young woman on a donkey and to end up having your first child in an open barn (remember – like at church!) and having to put your son in a manger where the cows ate dinner. THEN, not dignitaries, or city officials, or even a famous football player but shepherds show up with a weird tale about angels and a hit record and they leave…and there you are a new mom and a new dad in an open-faced barn and the newborn lying in a manger. Huh?
Christmas, if anything, is about the unpredictability of God, life, people, politics all colliding together in what initially appears like one big mistake with the enduring question of, “Hello! God? Where are you?’
And Mary, Mary kept all this to herself. Wow!!! She pondered, reflected, contemplated. I do not appreciate all the religious jargon here or any place else for that matter. Our religious vocabulary that everyone supposedly knows what it means tends to stop us from delving further into the humanity of the story and helps keep scenes from open faced, smelly barns nice and sanitary.
The ancient Celtic Christian belief says something like, “when you look into the face of a newborn you look into the face of God.” I believe this…in part. Our newly born great granddaughter is freaking amazing. One look and you cannot take your eyes off her. She tracks us now. You sick your tongue out and she follows suit. She is beautifully mesmerizing.
OK. We behold the face of God, in an open-faced Sunday school like barn, with God lying in the feeding trough smiling. We cannot turn away. We love God. Because God is embodied and looking up at us with all this undeniable joy, love, and connection. The barn smells. Newborns stink at times. It’s messy, it’s incarnation, it is the very best because… It is Christmas!
Celtic Way Creative Director
Read more about Fr. Scott here.