I've never been poor. Even when my father was in graduate school and my mother was a stay-at-home-mom, we had enough money to pay our rent, put food on the table and drive not one but TWO cars (with the generous help of our grandparents!). So I haven't had to make a home in a place where animals do their business right along side me, and I have to borrow whatever dirty rags I find lying about to wrap my baby in and call them 'swaddling cloths'--and who knows what they swaddled last. And am just plain glad there's a roof over my head on this night of all nights when I've had been aching and hurting and grunting and pushing to get that baby out of my body and into this place teeming with life of all kinds of animals. Vermin and bugs and cattle and sheep. I never had to worry about such things, because every one who touched my new-born baby was more sterile than I was as I labored to bring each into the world.
We don't think about the sheer dirt and grime of it often, do we? We don't think about the raw ugliness of how God was born. Not with clean hands or clean water or even clean swaddling clothes freshly pressed, smelling like roses. But there was NOTHING clean about His birth. Not the place, not Joseph's hands who'd been caring for the donkey as well as Mary as they traveled the road from Nazareth. Do you think Joseph took time to scrub his grimy fingers before he reached out for that baby? With what, exactly? What kind of hot water do you think was on tap there in that stable (or cave), hundreds of years before hot water heaters were invented? Before such a notion was even considered necessary? Joseph merely did what he had to do: he held out his hands with dirt under his fingernails, and helped the Son of GOD take His first breath in this world.
Isn't that something?
And for good reason, we're told by one medical expert after another.
But God was born right in the middle of dirt and grime and bugs and shit (yes, I did use that word because it's just the truth!) because it's exactly where He meant to be born.
Exactly where He meant to be born.
Exactly where He MUST be born.
In your life
and in mine.
Lying in bed this morning, I got to thinking about this whole Peace On Earth thing. And I know you know what I mean. You ask every second person what they want for Christmas and they answer, "Peace on Earth." It doesn't matter what religious persuasion they are, whether they're of any persuasion at all, they still answer Peace On Earth. It's the common answer for young, beautiful, skinny, overly coiffed women prancing around on stage in evening gowns and swimsuits. When asked what they want in the world, they answer (or at least this is the answer they all give in "Miss Congeniality," and I'm pretty sure that's a documentary!), "Peace On Earth."
Anyway, it hit me this morning that like so many things we say, so many expressions used or misused in the world, this has its root in the gospel. You know that famous, now stolen, sign above the entrance to Auschwitz? "Arbeit macht frei," it says. Works makes free is the literal translation, but it implies that your work will set you free, which wasn't true at all, as we now all know (unless we're deniers of the Holocaust). This is bastardized from the verse, "The truth will set you free."--The TRUTH who is Jesus is the ONLY one who will set you free. The one who came in dirt, and grime...and even in the hole that was a 'work camp.'
And what about the clause we use very often, "By the way,"? This comes from the verse (very near the one mentioned above, actually) where Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life." Originally when someone said 'by the way', they were saying something serious, 'by the Jesus,' in fact. Like an oath. It wasn't a throw-away remark almost forgotten to be mentioned. "By the way, I picked up the toilet paper." By the way was once (and maybe should be again!) an oath of the most serious nature.
And so this wish for peace on earth. A phrase first uttered in the sky above sheep pastures outside of Bethlehem. A phrase offered to shepherds--shepherds, who weren't in the first rung of their society, but the bottom. Shepherds who had no actual power in their world, but did what they did because they had no other options. These were not people who could effect peace on earth. They were only concerned with peace in their pastures. Peace from the tyranny of wolves, not of nations. Shepherds concerned with the business and grime of the animals in their flock. It's profound to consider--where HE was born, who HE was first proclaimed, what they were most concerned. It all lines up. Just as God does. To these shepherds, the angel offered, "Peace on earth." On all of earth.
This peace of which the angel spoke was NOT what the shepherds--or the entire world--expected. Not what they thought they wanted or needed. It was peace with a price. Peace with a whole lot of negative things attached. Peace with misunderstanding, denial, cursing and a CROSS attached. Not as the world gave/gives, but peace with eternal perspective. Peace with repentance, forgiveness and transformation. Peace on earth, it turns out, can only be enacted one person at a time. Peace not by lack of hostility, but by the entrance within each person of the ONE who can overcome such hostility the enemy might level against him/her.
So when we hear--over and over, ad infinitum--those words, "Peace on earth," what is being wished is the Incarnate One, the One who is our peace. The holiday wish, the beauty pageant peace, the peace wished for in every second remark on every momentous occasion on this planet, it turns out, is Jesus. Don't you just love this? Don't you just love that all sorts of people who have no idea of what they're really asking for, are pleading for Jesus' presence in the world. Jesus! Just as He was the One the shepherds ran to see after hearing those words in that dark night outside of Bethlehem. So when I hear it--from wherever direction the words come--instead of rolling my eyes (as I've been known to do)--let me join my voice to it, and breathe a prayer for peace to come, er, for Jesus to come. Again and again and again.
BE born to us, JESUS. In whatever place we are. In whatever dirt and grime and poor, needy place we live. Come, Jesus, Come.