Monday, December 24, 2007

Vegetables and Labor Pains

I thought you might appreciate a pic of my Nativity set. Sorry the pic is a bit washed out. As you can see Jesus is a french pea, Mary is a Carrot, Joseph is Asparagus, I have a Cucumber Wise Man and a Tomato Shepherd!

Working for a Church at this time of year means you get to think a lot about the Nativity Story. There's something that I've noticed in our various retellings of it. Every Nativity Service I've ever seen jump from a travel weary Joseph and a heavily pregnant Mary being shown the stable, to a wonderfully cute image of Mary and Joseph staring lovingly down at the heavily swaddled baby Jesus.

There is a scene missing.

Very rarely do we ever see Mary giving birth. We may see a few labor pangs if the actress playing Mary is up to it, but Church productions of the Nativity Story never have a birth scene.

There again neither does the Gospels. Matthew just has the phrase '...she gave birth to a son'. Luke - has a little bit of 'in utero' movement when Mary meets Elizabeth. But once again the only phrase about the birth is '...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son'. (Interesting thought: Why did Luke think it important to tell us that she had a son - we already know that from Mary's encounter with Gabriel - surely there wasn't any doubt in the matter!)

Mark and John say absolutely nothing.

So, what did happen? Do we imagine a midwife present or did Joseph deliver the baby? I can't imagine he was much help, he was only a teenager himself and I'm sure he wasn't up-to-date on Lamaze or The Bradley Method. Would he have known about the Placenta? Would he have known how to cut and tie the umbilical cord? When I stop and think, I realize it must have been a terrifying scene. No Doctors, no Epidural, and a real possibility that Jesus could not be born at all if their were any complications.

I think we skip over the scene because we are desperate for the Christmas Card image - I don't think I've ever scene a card with blood stained straw, a very exhausted sweaty Mary and a Placenta thrown off in one corner. The very suggestion of it is shocking - believe me, I almost edited out that sentence numerous times, esp after seeing a picture of a Placenta on Wikipedia.

Christmas is messy.

We tell the Christmas story and try to generate warm fuzzies about peace on earth and goodwill to all people. We tell ourselves '...tis the season to be jolly', but for many of us it isn't. Christmas never lives up to it's portrayal, it has grown larger than life. The Mythic has consumed The Real.
We use the fantasy of Christmas to block out the realities of life. Hunger, Starvation, Injustice, Poverty, Oppression.

Fortunately Reality has a way of breaking through.

God born into abject poverty in a third world town. God could not 'sink any lower' if He wanted too. The ugly reality and misery is a telling of hope. Hope that is born in the dangerous pain of Childbirth. Hope that is born in abandonment, in homelessness, in poverty. Hope born to an Oppressed People reeling under the weight of Injustice.

This is a tough Christmas for me. I put on the sweater that mum knitted me today and had a little cry before I left for the office. But no matter how loudly the pains of the world scream, there is a tiny silent night, that swallows up the worlds misery and transforms it to Peace.

Longfellow's Carol
I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And mild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

In a few hours the Chancel Choir wil be singing a choir anthem of mine with a full String Orchestra accompanying them. It's been a lot of work as I haven't orchestrated anything since 1994. And it's also an honor to have piece of mine in the Christmas Eve service. It is a new setting of the text of 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' which you can listen too here. I've always loved the last verse of this carol:

O holy Child of Bethlehem!
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel!

The presence of God being born in us is messy, it's as messy as any other birth, full of unexpected complications, difficulties and labor pains. That's what makes it real. The pain of the world may scream, but the angels are still singing.

Merry Christmas.

1 comment:

Jim Kelley said...