I have an issue with one of the Christmas carols that we sing: Away in a Manger.
The problem? “No crying he makes.”
What? Why not? Was there something wrong with him?! I was present at the birth of my own child who no crying did make – and the paediatric cardiologist who fortunately happened to be present had to ‘jump-start’ the baby.
Babies cry. It’s normal. Jesus was a baby. I’m sure that he cried.
I saw a poem recently that played upon the very human, messy, challenging side of maternity. My wife told me not to read it in church because people don’t want to come to church at Christmas and hear about milk stains on shirts, or problems with babies latching on to nurse, or cracked nipples, or expulsion of blood.
And yet these are all normal, regular parts of the miracle of childbirth. Because every childbirth is a miracle. And every childbirth is messy. And why should this matter? Why should I care whether or not little Lord Jesus some crying did make?
Because if we diminish the humanity of this small, vulnerable baby, then we lose some of the point of what we celebrate. We call it incarnation. It means becoming flesh. The same root as the word carne in Spanish – flesh, meat.
We celebrate the gift of God in the flesh. A bridge between heaven and earth. Christmas doesn’t bring God down to earth as much as it brings our appreciation of God down to earth.
This Jesus is very human. A very special, human, of course, but still human. His humanity, his earthly life – and his death – connect him to us, and connect our lives to the divine creator: human life, with all its ups and downs – and its opportunities for growth.
However much gladness and rejoicing we want to squeeze into Christmas, and we should, there is something curiously incomplete about it. Christmas is not about a saviour being crowned. It is the story of a saviour who appears to the world as a baby wrapped in bands of cloth. He has to grow into his role – and so do we. We might take the opportunity at Christmas, to remind ourselves that we have a long way to go. No matter how young or old we are. But we are also reminded that Jesus has made this journey before us, and is alongside us as we make it.
And although Luke’s angels inform the shepherds that the anointed one has already been born, the promised redemption he is to bring remains just that: a promise not yet fulfilled. First, Jesus has to go through the trials and tribulations, the fulfilment and joy of human living.
The poem that I was not reading includes these words:
if the vulgarity of birth is notKaitlin Hardy Shetler
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labour,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all
So excuse me for preaching a little of the vulgarity of birth on this Christmas Day. I agree with the writer of the poem that if it is not honestly preached then it should not be preached at all. Because in the vulgarity, the messy ordinariness of birth, lies the root of the immense gift to humanity that is born and placed in the manger, in simple surroundings. It says that God loves us enough to join us in all the challenging, difficult parts of everyday human life.
So don’t underestimate the humanity of Jesus and his life. Let the baby Jesus cry. It makes him real.
And the journey of fulfilling Christ’s promised redemption? Well, fulfilling that has become our responsibility, one messy, vulgar, human step at a time. Fortunately, what we celebrate today is the wonderful and delightful knowledge that this baby encompasses boundless love to accompany, empower and encourage us as we take those steps.