NATIVITY

Posted: November 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

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“…we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses…” (Heb. 12:1)
“…we have seen HIM, enveloped in undeniable splendor…” (John 1:14)

Every year about this time, Ben walks over and looks over the edge of heaven, he has a great view of the beautiful broken planet and that is where he sees something so unfamiliarly familiar. He sees the nativity sets everywhere, in yards and lots, on mantles and under trees, on bedazzled sweatshirts and bright screen savers, and it takes him back. His mind is flooded with memories of a long ago moment that is frozen in time, a messy moment that ignited a movement.
He chuckles because of the huge variety of nativities. Some are quite serious, some are silly, and some are sarcastic. The original event was an explosion of uncontrollable joy, so he doesn’t have a problem with the silliness.
He knows the real story, he was there.
There are shiny glass and plastic nativities, some are toy sets for children and a few have live animals. There are completely random nativities made of Coke cans and stuffed animals. The thing that strikes him is that most of them are so clean and chaos free, very sanitized, safe and family friendly, void of the Holy harshness of that faraway night.

He ponders…

“I remember it all…
It started in a field, we were protecting our flock from predators, that’s what shepherds do. It was thankless work, but it was the family business. It was a night like every other…UNTIL it wasn’t.
We had the sheep in for the night, the darkness was thick and the cold chilled our tired bones. We stood around a small crackling camp fire, it gave off a little light and heat, but the night was quickly closing in on us. We were the kind of relentless tired that comes with working hard in the cold. Suddenly, the stillness of the night was broken when Manny farted, and of course, because we were a group of men, that was always hilarious. We laughed and snorted and giggled. Then our laughter and the darkness were SUDDENLY interrupted by an unworldly pure light.
ILLUMINATION!!
Followed closely by…
REALIZATION!!
That…we…were…not…alone!
There was the largest man that I had ever seen,
He had dark bronze skin that, I swear literally shone. He just appeared out of the nothingness.
I denied this for years, but he scared the crap out of me…literally.
He then said in a booming voice, “Don’t be afraid!”…Ummm, too late man!
Then he told us that a baby had been born who was destined to break our bonds…a baby!!
The Messiah had come! AND, he was in a manger!?!
That seemed like pretty big news.
That seemed like it could be the best news ever.
I was pretty sure that the man had the wrong address, surely he was looking for the palace or temple. Was this some directionally challenged heavenly messenger?
We were shepherds, we were outcasts.
We were burly, homeless, uncultured misfits, a band of brothers who hadn’t bathed in weeks. We were basically traveling carnival freaks.
We were the least likely to get invited to ANYTHING!!
Now, we were the FIRST to get invited to the BIGGEST thing ever!
My mind was racing, my heart was pounding.
I wanted to laugh and cry and shout and swear all at once, instead I just stood staring at the visitor with a stupid look on my face.
SUDDENLY, the man was joined by an entire army of mysterious messengers. This was getting CRAZY!! Then it got weirder, they started to…umm…sing! Oh yes, it’s true, they passionately broke forth into song. There was a sense of wonder and relief to their song. They acted like kids who had asked a thousand times “are we there yet?” FINALLY arriving at their destination. They acted like this was a song that they had waited millennia to sing. There was a power in the music that drove me to my knees. Their song was a force of nature.
They sang…

Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace, goodwill to all people.

As quickly as they had appeared, the choir dismissed themselves and returned to the realms hidden behind the stars, but the song stayed, it lingered, it didn’t seem to stop.
We awkwardly stood there trying to process something that just couldn’t be processed.
Nothing like this had ever happened. The bleating of our sheep broke the awkwardness.
We looked at each other, What were we waiting for?
We ran into town, the streets were alive with thousands of tourists in town for the census. we fought through the bustling crowd, nobody was happy to see us, we didn’t care. We weren’t there to see them. We were pushed and called names, it didn’t slow us down. There were so many people!! They were all unsuspecting of the sacred moment that was unfolding in their midst.
I’m always amazed how the nativity sets make the scene appear so serene. The story has been sung to make you think that it was a silent night, it was hardly silent or serene. It was chaotic…beautiful, noisy, messy chaos. There were angry crowd noises and divinely designed disorder as we entered the stable.
We trampled in on the dirty straw, past the small untamed group of animals, and were confronted by the unmistakable stench of a barn combined with the smell of sweat and afterbirth.
There it was, the first time I ever witnessed the nativity scene, father, mother and child. At first they looked more like desperate and dirty refugees than redeemers.
There was the young mother, she looked to be probably about thirteen, her face carried a look of exhaustion, but yet there was peace in her eyes with a tinge of sorrow. She was looking around with curiosity, she seemed to just be taking everything in. She didn’t act surprised or scared to see us. She smiled.
The baby was squirming and crying at the top of his lungs. For a long awaited messiah, he looked a lot like every other new born Jewish baby. Then the new born King got very red in the face. As the father of four, I recognized what was happening. We awkwardly stood at a distance watching God poop for the first time, I couldn’t help but think that at least I wasn’t the only one that night.
This was the hope of mankind in swaddling clothes! This was touchable wonder!!
I saw the father, I felt an instant connection with him. He was older than the mother and I could tell by the way that he carried himself that he was a working man. There was a humility and honor about him that was immediately apparent. He motioned for us to come closer with his calloused hand, he wiped a tear from his dirty face and he said in a coarse voice, “His name is Jesus”. Something about hearing the name electrified my insides. We worshiped the baby. We were the outsiders who had suddenly been invited inside, we breathlessly worshipped the child, because that is what you do when you are suddenly invited inside. We were shepherds, we had nothing to offer the King, but our love. Over the years, I realized THAT was all he wanted.
You know, It always makes me laugh that in all of the nativity sets, we are standing next to the stargazers, they hold their expensive gifts, while we hold our breath.
But, the truth is we never met those guys. They didn’t show up while we were there.
After a while, we noticed that the young mother was tired and the baby King was hungry. We quietly bowed our heads and backed out of the small stable.
We begin our journey home, we were the same band of brothers, yet we had a new significance. We had found ourselves in a new story. The story that I still get to look over the edge and see myself in.
As we walked, the buzz of the barn wore off and we realized that we had left the flock alone. It was irresponsible, but do you blame us? I mean, c’mon, Nobody wanted to stay with the sheep when there was a savior to be seen.
So, on the way back, we feared the worst.
Had the sheep ran away, had the wolves come?
But, it turns out that the messenger’s command to “fear not” didn’t have an expiration. It seems like the Most High had taken care of even the smallest details.
We got back to camp to find everything fine.
It was almost like there had been a supernatural fence around the sheep, keeping them in and the wolves out. Nobody ever tells that part of the story. But, I was there.
And, now I am here.
I stand here on the edge of heaven,
I look over and I see the celebrations and the controversies. Things get distorted. But, I know the truth. I was there.
I was a bit player, but I am a native of the nativity.
We returned to our pasture different
We went back to our work. We returned to the same messy, misunderstood life as before, but we were forever different. We had been marked by pure glory. We were armed with a new hope, we were suddenly living a better story.
I remember it all…”

Ben scratched his beard and smiled as he caught a glimpse of a tiny ceramic nativity set that portrayed the shepherds as cherub faced children. He muttered “Hardly!!”
He took a deep, contented breath.
He started to hum a familiar medley, then the words and music began to mix and he couldn’t help but sing along to the song that has never ceased resounding and rebounding through time and space…

Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace, goodwill to all people

Comments
  1. Diane Gray says:

    What a beautiful and realistic and imaginative look at the “traditional” nativity. Love it!!!

    Like

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