Epiphany: It’s Not Over… it’s just beginning. The Incarnation and Wondering Questions

I wonder if there is anything new that could be said about Christmas?

Every year brings sharper focus to a different facet of the celebration.

Has this ever happened to you?

I wonder what part of the story of the Nativity has grabbed others in years past or this year?

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Iconography of the Nativity

Christmas 2008 a new child entered our midst just about 3 months earlier and the closeness  of having a new child and celebrating the birth of a child pointed out new threads to the worn story.  How treacherous the journey that was undertaken just before the birth of their son. Crossing that rocky landscape-70 miles- over a course of days heavy with child because of the mandate of a ruler…  It wasn’t something from a perfect parenting magazine.

I wonder if there are people these days who, like the parents of the Messiah, are forced to travel because of the government of their land?

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In my own life at nine months along things that fell onto the floor from children raised the question “I wonder who will pick that up?” because if I attempted it my belly would tighten and my late pregnancy would groan against different parts of my body.  But this mom, she was riding a donkey through a rocky and desolate land.  Nowhere does it refer to her groans of anguish.

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An interesting study in itself:  the cultural lens through which many of the nativity depictions have been created.  Some with Mary looking like the Queen of England, others with her as a middle ages woman.

The mother seemed so calm in all the pictures, but … really?  The world I lived in, parents spent ridiculous amounts of money on every sort of accoutrement for their child including baby wipes warmers, baby food making appliances and bottles that had no fewer than 9 or more parts to sanitize, strollers the size of Cadillacs and all the weirdness about what kind of diapers or what was fed the child…  latch problems and colic, infections and shots…

Here was Mary, a teenage mom who was unwed… and is there any other circumstance in life that is more vulnerable?  The child was brought into the world at a time when the parents had nothing.  Nothing.  And how calm she always seemed?  Isn’t that a bit of miracle as well?

Perhaps it seems shallow, but the contrast presented itself.

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Other years paddling as fast as possible to keep all the pieces in motion, I grew to appreciate the wise men.  They arrived late and had to travel a long way.  When traveling for Christmas and usually running behind, the story of the Magi provided some sense that the chaos too, belonged in the story.

Even more lovely was a year when a friend spoke the truth that one of the earliest witnesses to the birth of the Messiah was an Asian or perhaps African astrologer… and how open to a testimony like that would our American church be today?

Perhaps it seems shallow, but the irony presented itself.

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One year left a wondering about how it was that the shepherds… those outcasts who slept with animals… how was it that they were among the first to hear the news… and what did that say about the nature of God?  Not only did they hear the news, but in the majesty of revelation from angels?  What could God be saying  about his kingdom by revealing that to this lowly class rather than to the royalty or any other class of individuals?

I asked my family “I wonder why God sent the angels to tell the shepherds first?”

The responses came after some thought.

“Because he knew the shepherds took good care of animals and that was why,” said the 8 year old.

“Because everyone else was in their house asleep,” said the pragmatic 11 year old.

“Because that seems to be the way he does things… He wanted to announce it, but he couldn’t announce it to anyone but the shepherds-because they were powerless- because Herod would have gone and killed the child.” said the 46 year old.

Which lead us all to the details about Herod and the massacre of innocents that isn’t usually very much talked about…why?  Clean, sanitary stories.  Ones that won’t make us uncomfortable, however, is that the way God seems to do things?  Clean?

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Maybe the story of a teenage mom having a baby in a barn is too messy.  Maybe we should clean it up a little… you know, so that it’s good for business.

This year comes something new still.  The incarnation still has nothing to do with decorated trees, or men in a red suit or beautifully wrapped boxes displaying a hyperabundance of giving.

The incarnation is simply God taking on the form of being a person, albeit in a most distinctive way, to limit his power in order to bring us closer to him.

The way grownups do when they play Candyland with children, sort of (perhaps we lack an element of sacred majesty, but the idea is the same, no?)

And when the time came, there was no place for him, so he was born where the animals lived.

I wonder what it means that when he arrived, there was no place for him?

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Word made flesh

Wonderings about any of the narratives in the bible are a deep well of wisdom, engagement, learning, wonder and gratitude.  The old stories reveal themselves freshly in the answers to wondering questions.

  • I wonder who today looks the most like Herod?

  • I wonder who would the shepherds be today?

  • I wonder if Joseph and Mary were white like pictures often show them?

  • I wonder if it is meaningful that when Jesus arrived, there was no place for him?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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