O Little Town of Bethlehem

I know a few who like to stand in the back of the manger, a person out of costume, holding up a crucifix and whisper-shouting to those of us off-stage: “This,” they say, shaking that cross in the air, “THIS is what that baby really means!” They’re right, of course, at least partly. It’s true, but I find it wildly distracting and obnoxious when I’m just trying to learn what Emmanuel, God with us, really means.The liturgical year will wind its way to Calvary soon enough. The whole story’s important, but basting the two Super Bowl-level Christian holidays together robs each of them (and the beautiful ordinary time in between) of their impact.

For now, I’m staying in Bethlehem.

God came to a family and He grew baby fingers and toes; He probably drooled and got ear infections and cried to show us even these early years are crucial: He didn’t burst onto the scene an adult.

God never does things as I would’ve done them.

In the moment, early childhood doesn’t feel holy: the middle child wants to know every three minutes if it’s snack time; the youngest hasn’t napped for the fourth day in a row. The oldest has a tangle in her thread again, a gift for her sister she needs to finish now. They’re wrapping half-hearted, ripped coloring book pages in newspaper and we’re out of Scotch tape, and much lamenting is being done over the gravity of running out of Scotch tape on Christmas Eve.

Children (and, um, bigger children) want to live in the book of Lamentations, but we’re leaning into Luke tonight. These were holy years for Jesus, as they are, in tinier ways, for us. People with grown children know, and tell me this, and I keep them in my heart, too.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

Text: Luke 2; Image credit: American painter John Singleton Copley’s Nativity

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