As anyone who has been involved with parenting knows, caring for a baby involves facing a host of challenges.
By their nature, babies challenge your senses, sensibilities and sense of self-esteem, not to mention your cherished routines, preconceptions and preoccupations.
These are commonplaces.
Yet we tend to gloss over them, for fear of feeling or speaking something that may seem to diminish our love and concern for our children.
Which does not mean that you are not a wonderful parent.
But it may mean that you may not be the best witness of parenting.
So, too, in our Christian walk and talk, where it is easy to diminish or downplay the challenges of Christianity, lest we seem to demonstrate a lack of love or faith.
Which does not mean that you are not a wonderful Christian.
But it may mean that you may not be the best witness of the Christian way.
We should be able to handle both the ups and the downs.
As far as babies go, it’s not a matter of saying: “Yes babies are challenging, but they are wonderful!”.
It’s a matter of saying: “Yes, babies are challenging, and they are wonderful!”.
Why not admit both?
Are we so caught up in the buzz phrase “the perception is the reality” that we have to spin all "wonderful" things into undiluted "wonderfulness"?
Are we so incapable of handling the slightest seeming-paradox?
Have we never been able to jointly-consider heaven and earth, the glorious and the pungent?
In defiance of our all-too-sanitized crèches, nativities and popular images of the birth of Jesus, some preachers have railed, quite rightfully, that we are missing the point.
For in highlighting the spiritual qualities of the scene, we have become numb to the vast array of challenges that would face anyone caught in that circumstance.
If you doubt my words, then I challenge you to consider the manger scene and create a “picture-this” moment, or better yet: a “picture-this”, “hear-this”, “smell-this”, “touch-this” and, at the slightest gust of wind, “taste-this” moment.
To which you may add the reality of lives turned upside down not merely by birth, not merely by the pressing demands of a first-born, but by the chaos of a census-driven mass-migration.
Yet, if, in our frantic rush to make everything appealing, we gloss past everything else to focus on “God” and “Word”, then we will omit two crucial words.
In Jesus, there is neither God nor Word without flesh.
And all of the pungent challenges that flesh can present.
Not as a fleshless being, nor into a fleshless world.
But as carnate beings in a carnate world.
Not for us, who choose this walk, to shy away from those things that challenge our senses, sensibilities and sense of self-esteem, not to mention our cherished routines, preconceptions and preoccupations.
Not for us, to gloss over those things that we deem to be “unfortunate realities”.
Not for us, to wrinkle our noses, close our eyes, stop our ears and walk away from anything.
I have heard it preached that Jesus chose to be born in a stable because the animals were gentler than the community of people around them.
A miserly appraisal of humanity, indeed.
And a miserly appraisal of Jesus.
As if Jesus ever shied away from enlisting tax collectors and hanging with publicans and sinners.
Still and all, it is a view that might be held by anyone who had become enraptured by an enchanting crèche.
A scene which would suggest that Jesus chose to enter the world in the setting of an idyllic retreat.
As if Jesus ever chose an idyllic retreat.
Into the midst of all things.
Into the hurly-burly; into the seeming-chaos of wildly diverse and divergent lives; into the crazy quilt that we perceive as the created world; into the roiling mulligan stew that defies our best attempts to sample one bit without tasting the whole.
Not into an idyll; not into a world that is sanitized for our sanity; not into a world of pleasant pastels arranged in pleasing combinations.
But into the same world into which Jesus plunged.
Checking our fastidiousness at the gates; leaving behind our notions of “nice”; leaving behind that sense of order which is a product of our imaginations; leaving behind our constant revulsion against anything or anyone that we deem offensive.
To understand that, we must remember how we were born, and we must look past the pastoral crèche to see how Jesus was born.
In honest detail.
And dare one say, “It’s not nice”?
Only if one chooses to rip out the heart of Jesus’ mission.
Which was to enter our madding world, and, from the first nascent moment, to become one with us.
I post new articles twice-monthly in “Author’s Corner”.
If you live in or near the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, and you would be interested in meeting with others for discussion and/or prayer, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All are welcome, regardless of identity or personal choices. Please understand that I do not have the resources to guarantee that I will be able to read or respond to all other correspondence.
Toward Dawn is a privately-funded outreach, and it neither solicits nor accepts contributions.
Rob Wright holds advanced degrees in education and performing arts, and he has been a professional teacher for over seventeen years. In his home denomination, he has served as a lay minister in liturgical, educational and ecumenical activities. He lives in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire with his spouse of twenty years and their daughter.