Sunday, December 20, 2009

Away in a Manger

My sermon this morning was on the very human aspects of Jesus' family. In the Eastern Church we read from Matthew 1 today, the geneaology of Jesus which includes 42 names of Jesus' parents, grandparents, and great grandparents..........a real tongue twister for newbie pastors! We hear about the birth of Solomon from Uriah's wife (hint hint--Bathsheba was Solomon's mommy!), Rahab the harlot, and of course good old King David who wasn't always that great. We also a heard about Mary who was both unwed and a young teenager at the time of Jesus' birth, nothing short of a scandal in those times.

Then I spoke about the Nativity scene that we often see in front of Churches, lawns, and in small creche scenes at home. They look so cute. Yet something important is missing, the real humanity of it all, the yelling and screaming of Mary as Jesus entered the world, a midwife perhaps helping her; Joseph, like most new fathers nervous as all get out, and then the stench and smell of animals. Our Nativity scene at home has a small donkey and cow, but if you ever spend any time in a farm or in a petting zoo you smell the noxious fumes of animal dung, urine, and musk, and the noise, the howling and noises that animals make. It is all there on paper but somehow it gets lost in our whitewashed and sacherine ideas of Christmas. When was the last time you saw King Herod on a Hallmark card? Probably never, but he is a prominent feature in Matthew's story.

Furthermore, the gospels say that Mary placed Jesus in a manger, not some hand made wooden frame crib made at Pottery Barn, but a manger, a food trough where farmers and shepherds put water and food for their animals. A place of drool, spit, and sloppiness. In the Middle East you see many examples of these troughs they are about 24 inches long by 16 inches wide by about 10 inches tall.

What are the gospels telling us in these particular aspects of the gospel story? I think they show us the really human aspects of life, the pain and screaming at child-birth, the smells and odors of the farmhouse, the noises of donkeys, sheep, and goats as they churtle away throughout the night. Jesus was born into all this and the gospels record it as such, the real and human nature that we all have, it is not whitewashed or glossed over, but presented to us at each reading of the Christmas story and in the Nativity creche scenes. I guess we have to look a bit closer and read slower to take it all in.

Only five more days till Christmas.................