Sunday, December 17, 2006

Burping the Baby Jesus

“While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
all seated on the ground,
the angel of the Lord appeared
and glory shone around...”

These words were in my page a day style calendar this week, only the idea of this calendar is there are words that are heard wrong by people that sometimes make the tune funny. My coworker Melonie was in the showroom when she heard me howling with laughter in the back room. I had just torn off the previous day's page and read the words for the new day. The words that had been heard wrong were, “While shepherds washed their socks by night.” Okay, for some these words may be considered sacrilege. But think about it, shepherds would want clean socks, and after a hard day of trudging around the pasture and the rocky ledges I'm sure that there was nothing more comforting than to put the sheep in the fold and kick off the shoes. Maybe one of them went so far as to say, “My dogs are barking.” that may have brought a chuckle among them as they realized that they do use dogs to help tend sheep.

I love the scriptural texts of Christmas. From the very beginning on through to the very end when the wise men show up. (Just for the record, is there a difference between a wise man and wise guy?) I think that we tend to look at the scriptural texts for Christmas with such a deep sense of romance that we fail to see the real story, the things that make, “God made flesh,” seem more fairy tale like than they really could have been.

One of my favorite Christmas books is for children, or so the booksellers claim. The book titled simply, The Nativity has only the words taken from the traditional scriptural texts of the Christmas story, it's the illustrations by Julie Vivas that gives the story the better view of the events described in scripture. If you love the Christmas story you should run, not walk, to the library or the local book store and see if you can snag a copy of this tome. You will know it when you see it, the illustrations are done in watercolor pencil and the illustration on the cover is that of a very pregnant Mary standing by the donkey while Joseph leans down, his hands in a makeshift stirrup ready to give her a leg up. The look on her face says, “yeah, like that's gonna work, honey.”

Gabriel with giant angel wings dragging behind him, tiptoes in army boots toward the unsuspecting Mary. If anyone can tiptoe in army boots, he does it. The angel finds Mary hanging the wash on the line. One of my favorite pictures in this part of the story shows Mary and Gabriel sitting at a kitchen table drinking from bowls, latte anyone?

But just as we learn in scripture, while Mary's soul was magnifying the Lord, Joseph has a look of absolute, “what in the?” The pictures that follow show Mary with a growing child within, making baby clothes, stirring up dinner.

The picture of the inn is possibly one of the most compelling. There are people sitting in the trees, sleeping in the awnings over the door of the inn, a massive crowd. It shows Mary sitting on a rock, leaning against Joseph's back while he pours sand from his shoe.

Then the baby comes, and believe it or not, he's born naked. Bet you never thought about that, the Son of God born sans swaddling. The pictures that follow show an exhausted mother, a doting father all resting amidst the chickens and straw.

Further into the story, there are shepherds peeking at the baby with their lips shaped in coos and their eyes filled with tenderness and awe. You know that one of them had to say those immortal words, the words said by everyone who sees a newborn, “look at his fingers, their so tiny.”

The pictures of the arrival of the wise men makes me giggle. While an angel in a tree offers a treat to one of the camels, two of the wise men are standing at a clothes line with diapers hanging from it. They present their gifts while Mary shows off the little one and Joseph sits beaming next to her.

At the end it shows Mary getting on the donkey while Joseph untethers it and an angel holds the baby while all of that happens.

If we take all of the romance away from the charming Christmas card portraits of the holy family shot by Lifestyles Portraiture or Glamour Shots we see a family, touched by God in a very special way, they are the first to receive, "God with us." They are the first to bathe our salvation, clip his fingernails, wash his diapers and deal with it when he spits up. Yep, I'm sure that Jesus did these very things, "he became flesh and dwelt among us." Experienced everything that we do. Mary and Joseph had the honor and privilege to care for a child who would save the world, but only after he experienced real life.

No doubt in my mind, at that first Christmas, “Shepherds washed their socks by night,” and there was an interruption while they did it. One of the most wonderful and awe inspiring interruptions in the history of the world.


Anonymous barb said...

So, as I try to collect myself, I thank you for telling me about your blog. Don, its beautiful. And as a response to the "Blue Butterfly", the day we interned my mother's ashes Kirk had a tennis match that morning which lasted 3 hours. (He ended up dehydrated in the hospital), but there was a butterfly which fluttered on whichever side of the court he was on those three hours. I knew she was there with him, did he.

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Rita said...

Hello Cousin,
Mom sent me your link. I love your thoughts on this one and am going to see what I can do about locating the book you have described. I have a 2 year old grandaughter now who is just beginning to learn the nativity story and is fascinated with the baby Jesus. It sounds like the kind of book that would help her to begin her journey into the Nativity and all the wonderful promises it holds. Thanks!

8:51 PM  
Anonymous UNK said...

Another great piece Don. I read it when you first sent notice but have not been very attentive to my computer. Once again you make me proud with your writing. I print it out and share it with my friends . Of course the breakfast bunch I have to read it to as they are illiterate. Keep writing as I so enjoy. UNK

9:50 AM  
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