Ashley-Anne was standing in line at the grocery store
a few days before Christmas
waiting to check out
and continue her holiday shopping somewhere else.[i]
The customer in front of her was finishing her transaction
and asked the clerk if she had any Christmas stamps.
The conversation went something like this:
Do you have any Christmas stamps left?
No, I’m so sorry. We just have the Liberty Bell stamps
and, um, stamps of some lady holding a baby.
Ok. Wait. Can I see them? That’s Mary. Holding Jesus.
I’ll take those.
Really? Are you sure?
How do you think they got a picture of them?
At this point, the customer looked back at Ashley-Anne
trying to be graceful in stifling her laughter.
So Ashley-Anne said to the both of them:
I bet its just someone’s interpretation of what
they may have looked like…
Maybe. (The clerk said, ringing up the stamps)
‘Cause I don’t think anyone took pictures back then…
Soon Ashley-Anne was at the cash register
and her items were being scanned
and the clerk kept going back to “some lady holding a baby”
and how she had sold those stamps for weeks, WEEKS
and never knew they were of Jesus and Mary.
It could happen to anyone…. Ashley-Anne said to her.
She grabbed her bags: Merry Christmas!
In thinking about this exchange,
Ashley-Anne would go on to say:
I smile now, every time I receive a Christmas card
with a “some lady holding a baby” stamp
and I’m grateful its forever in my memory.
Too often, As Christians on THIS side of the story,
we forget how ordinary the whole stable scene was:
Mary and Joseph were teenagers. In a barn.
To all who journeyed to Bethlehem to pay taxes,
they were just another young couple
another set of numbers.
Perhaps someone noticed them along the way
and asked Mary when she was due.
Perhaps the Innkeeper felt badly,
and wished them well as he turned them away.
Perhaps Joseph went in search of the perfect
A teenage girl gave birth to a healthy son
and her fiancé named him Jesus,
just as the angel had instructed…
But the wise men weren’t there yet.
The shepherds weren’t there right away, either.
There was no waiting room full of
anxious grandparents, aunts and uncles.
There were no midwives, nurses, no OBGYNs.
In the beginning there was the fresh
messy flesh-and-blood of salvation
placed in the arms of his exhausted, sweaty
glowing brand-new mother.
The night the Word became Flesh
was indeed as miraculously ordinary
as some lady holding a baby….
The Gospel of Luke begins innocently enough:
A census is announced. All went to their hometowns to be counted.
This one man named Joseph, from Nazareth of Galilee
went to be registered
along with the betrothed and very-pregnant Mary
to the city of King David called Bethlehem.
And while they were there, Mary gave birth to her firstborn son
whom she wrapped in bands of cloth
and whom she lay gently in a manger
an odd crib, to be sure,
but there was no room in the inn…
so they made do,
as so many people with few means do.
The fanfare would come a bit later…
to shepherds, who heard it from the Angels
to the magoi,
the wise-men and women from the east
who saw signs in the heavens
to the world,
through parents and neighbors and friends
tracing back for millennia.
But this night, this holy night
when Jesus is born
there is no fanfare. Not at first.
Just Joseph and Mary and some animals (maybe)
and Jesus, maybe crying, maybe asleep,
newborn and weary.
And just like that,
through what appears so ordinary, so normal, so quiet
Emmanuel is born.
God incarnate comes, becomes flesh and bone
enters our world
its hopes and fears
its politics and its struggles
its messy relationships and dysfunction
into OUR world, God comes, in this newborn Jesus
to work redemption
through love and grace and hope.
As tempting as it is to paint the scene the Hallmark way
the Gospel won’t really let us do that.
God’s incarnation as an infant,
a dependent, helpless infant,
born out in some second-rate town
to an unmarried couple, the most ordinary of couples…
this was not what anyone would have expected.
We often gloss over the scandal of this birth…
What God would DO That?
Seriously, isn’t even THAT beneath God?
Surely God would choose some other parents
or some other town
or some other venue.
Surely God would choose a more efficient mechanism
than the shepherds to get the word out.
Maybe a billboard.
Or an Advertizing Campaign.
Glitzy website and facebook viral campaign
giving away a free iPad if you like and share it with your friends.
We’ve come to adore the scene, I think
and rightfully so, because its beautiful and true and telling
that God would choose this spot, this quiet night
for his ordinary birth…
But I’m not sure its what I would have expected.
Maybe that’s the point.
The birth might even have gone un-noticed in its ordinariness
if it weren’t for those Angels announcing it to the shepherds
To you is Born this Day in the City of David
if it weren’t for those wise men and women
seeking answers for the portents in the heavens
and tipping King Herod off to God’s intervention.
Ordinary people themselves,
Paying attention to the extraordinary around them
and responding with Joy to God’s movement around them.
too often we have a rigid notion of what God is going to do
or where God is going to go
or what God is going to say.
But the Christmas Gospel reminds us, every time we hear it,
that God comes to ordinary people in extraordinary ways.
No, more than that. Not just to some vague ordinary people.
That God comes TO YOU, and TO ME. A savior.
With love and hope in abundance.
Try as we might, none of us live Hallmark lives.
There is no Lake Woebegone, where all the women are strong
the men are good looking
and all the children are above average.
There are only our real lives, our actual world
where we struggle to teach our kids right and wrong
where our mind-numbing labor wears us down
where cancer and AIDS and heart-disease
strike our friends and family
where too many are hungry,
and too many have parents
fighting in wars overseas
this world, our actual world, our ordinary world.
To US is born THIS NIGHT a SAVIOR.
Let us not be lulled into expecting God only to appear
to the perfect, to the worthy, to the wise, to the healthy, to the rested
to the ready, to the faithful, to the ideal.
Let us not be misled to think that WE aren’t good enough
aren’t working hard enough
aren’t worthy enough,
aren’t just the kind of people that God will love
that God saves….
This Christmas night, let us remember
that God has come to US, to all of us, to ALL people
to teach us something of hope.
Hope that we experience together,
as people who are inspired by Jesus
and who seek to walk His way.
Hope that we see when ordinary people like you and me
learn to love one another in and through our imperfections
learn to care for one another and welcome the outcast
learn to share that love with the hurting of the world.
Not too bad for some lady holding a baby.
Its Christmas. A baby is about to be born.
The whole world is about to receive its Savior.
Merry Christmas. May God’s love abound with you richly.
[i] From the blogpost “Some Lady Holding a Baby” by Ashley-Anne Masters, accessed December 24, 2013 at http://revaam.org/2013/12/20/some-lady-holding-a-baby/
Image: “Urban Nativity” by Natalie Casagran Lopez (natalieloveschachi), found at http://fc09.deviantart.net/fs13/i/2007/077/7/9/Urban_Nativity_by_natalieloveschachi.jpg. Cannot find contact information for original artist so used pending request for her permission.