2 Corinthians 12:7b-9
Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a throne in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away form me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
For some crazy reason, we think that it is necessary to have a perfect Christmas; that somehow in this imperfect world, we will create one perfect day. So, we go to great lenghs to shop for just the right gift, have the perfect meal, create the perfect sitting, wishing for 2.5 inches of newly fallen snow with no ice.
Then, Christmas arrives. Someone doesn’t get the gift they really wanted. A toy is broken before noon. Grandpa drinks too much punch and Dad calls Grandma a naughty word.
This week, we’ll look at how imperfect that first Christmas was and how this truly speaks to how we should view Christmas. One thing Christ’s birth should teach us is that perfect wasn’t how it all started.
Luke’s gospel tells us that the baby was placed in a manger after he was born because there was no room for them in the inn. This has lead us to believe that Jesus was born in a stable. More apporpriately, it might have been a cave. Nonetheless, it was a place where cattle lived. Having grown up on a farm, I know whereever there are cattle, this is manure. Stinky, smelly manure. And if it’s the right time of the year, flies aren’t far behind.
Let’s think about this. There was no hand sanitizer at the door. No stainless steal equipment to help deliver the Son of God. No one to make sure lots of warm, clean water was available. No clean gowns to make sure the chance of infection was limited.
Instead, the “nursing” staff might have included a cow, a donkey and maybe some sheep. Probably the only person there to help Mary was Joseph. And her bed might have been soft hay or straw.
A few years ago, I traveled to the Holy Lands. On Jan. 6, when the western church celebrates Ephiphany (the arrival of the magi) and the day the Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas, we traveled toBethlehem. We visited the Church of the Nativity, which is built over the supposed site of Jesus’ birth. Above the cave is a church, or actually four churches that move from one into another, built hundreds of years ago. As you enter the cave that symbolizes where Jesus was born, you have to stoop down and enter through a small door. Even for someone like me who isn’t very tall, you have to bend over to enter! Then, we went down a stairway and into the cave: a small, two room area. We were told that owners of the cave probably lived in the larger of the two areas (which is about the size of my home office). The animals were kept in the smaller of the two rooms. This might have been where Jesus was born. It’s even smaller than my home office.
A star on the ground represents where Jesus might have been born. As I knelt and laid my hand on the star, I prayed for the Christ child to continue to change my life.
While the cave is covered in marble and cloths and incense burners today, that’s not how it would have been when Jesus was born. It was a place where animals lived. Mary didn’t have an excellent team of caregivers lined up to catch the Son of Man as he entered the world. As a 12-15 year-old girl, imagine the freight and anxiety that was probably more likely a part of her delivery. And Joseph … do we think he had ever delivered a baby before? More than likely, not.
The Apostle Paul wrote these words from 2 Corinthians to the church atCorinth. We don’t know exactly what his ailment was that he speaks of in this passage. People have lots of guesses but no conclussions. What we do know is that this thorn in his flesh was something that kept him from being completely healthy, from living life as he wished. While he repeatedly ask God to remove this imperfectness, it continued to challenge him.
The perfect Son of God came into an imperfect world to help us with our imperfectness. When we have physical ails, Jesus’ grace is sufficient for us. As our lives get thrown into turmoil by challenges and unforseen things, the perfect Jesus will be journeying with us if we look for him. When our personal lives are invaded by things we can’t control, let us not fret or fear or worry. Let us turn to the imperfect barn and imagine the perfect baby that still called it home.
As much as I’d love for perfect Advent and Christmas worship services, celebrations and interactions, I know they won’t be. May God’s grace be more than enough. Ultimately, this is more important than one perfect day.