Friday, December 28, 2012

Let's remember the stable

Jesus was born in a lowly stable, not in the finest hotel

As I was sitting on my comfy couch yesterday afternoon, my thoughts were aswirl of what needs done before Christmas. My list was out and I was checking and adding things like a banshee. I have presents yet to buy, cookies to bake for two separate events, and a grocery list that is a mile long. I promised myself I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd of Christmas this year and instead of jogging on the fringes of it I almost lost myself in the middle of it. My kids wrote out their Christmas lists, as they do every year, in detail. Their lists are things they would love to have, but which my husband and I peruse and pick at will. Not everything can or ever will be bought – don’t we all have a list in the back of our minds of things we always wanted? Still, for some reason their lists started to blend together and make me go cross-eyed and unable to focus. What am I doing this year to be different? Or a better question, what am I doing to MAKE a difference.

My thoughts drifted to my friend who lives in Hartville – my very best friend. You know the kind? Where you don’t see each other for months and when you do it’s just like you have never been apart? I met her in San Antonio, Texas when I was serving a VS term back in 1988. We looked at each other and said, “Hey, there you are BFF!” She introduced me to my husband, so even if she wasn’t my best friend she would be special in my life. She is one tough cookie, and several years ago she decided that Christmas wasn’t all about the presents. She made plans, crazy plans, and on Christmas morning she loaded her vehicle with roasters of sausage gravy and biscuits, headed to downtown Akron and Canton, and fed all the homeless people that came out of the woodwork. Her family went with her and since then it’s become a tradition. She doesn’t just do it at Christmastime though - she goes sporadically throughout the year and shows up where they live, always with food, sometimes with clothing, and always with a heart full of compassion and love. She has gotten kicked out of places, yelled at, been put in scary situations but she keeps on going. She is my hero. 

What are we doing to spread God’s love and the message of Christmas? Talking about it in church on the safety of our benches? Do we send out care packages to a place in another state, then sit back and feel like we’ve done our part? Are we sitting on our comfy couches wondering what we are doing and what’s important about Christmas? I know I have been. I don’t know if I have the guts, like she does, to change it. I think about our Christmas traditions and I grow selfish and mean – kind of like the Grinch’s heart? I want to keep my traditions the same because they are revered in my heart. Why then, do I feel a small pinch when I realize that Christmas is only a few short days away and what have I done to make an impact – ANY impact? We may scrape and save to purchase presents for our kids, and those kids will love what we get them. They are not selfish kids, but they are warm and clothed, well-fed and well-loved. They have seen the other side of poverty, having visited and stayed on the mean streets of Mexico - it’s ingrained in their brains. But we have so much poverty here in the U.S. that’s ignored on a regular basis. We have kids that go to school hungry and sad, their bellies crying for even a crust of toast that my kids would throw away without a thought. There will be families that are cold on the streets and that will welcome a hot meal of sausage gravy and biscuits from a fierce and brave soul that obeyed God when she heard him talk to her heart. 

These people live in our backyards, in our towns, just out of view of us “regular” folk. We talk about them with disdain, bitterness, and fear in our hearts. Why can’t they just get a job and quit being a nuisance? I know when I’m out and about shopping and marking things off my list, grabbing that expensively-priced coffee with the sound of jingle bells in my head, that those less fortunate are far from my thoughts. I throw a few coins in the red metal tin and keep walking to my car. But the words of John Lennon linger in my head: So this is Christmas and what have you done? Jesus wasn’t born in a manger full of clean straw and water – he was born in a dirty stable full of animals. He was born into the lowest place there could be. We forget this. I forget this. We set up our nativity scenes of a clean-looking lovely stable where a clean baby Jesus lies. Mary and Joseph’s robes are spotless as are the robes of the shepherds who view him from just outside the door. As I set up my nativity this year, a cherished tradition, I noticed the faces of my figurines and how pale they were. I’m sure that Mary was not a blonde with fair skin and that baby Jesus didn’t have light brown hair as well. Has “our” version of Christmas become so traditional and the same that we can’t see past it? 

My thoughts are conflicted this dark morning as my warm cup of coffee steams before me. My Facebook feed streams with people that are telling me what they are thankful for – as I, too, am thankful for what God has blessed me with. But I want to remember as well that dirty, cold stable that Jesus was born into. I don’t want to stray so far and be so comfortable that I forget and begin to fear those that don’t have what I do – or look at them from the very tip of my nose. I’m not better. Every day, there is a mom or dad that is struggling to find a place to keep their kids warm for the night. They don’t want to be in the situation they are in, and it’s not as easy as telling them to get off their “lazy bottoms and go to work” – whoever said being less fortunate makes you lazy? We need to change our words of disdain and anger and turn them into words that heal. Jesus wasn’t born into a beautiful mansion fit for a king – he was born into a filthy stable for a reason – to remind me and you of the least of us.


Lena Schlabach said...

Wise words. That's how I felt. Admire your friend on how she makes a difference.