Dwelt Among Us

Susanna VanVickle // Genius of the Call


December 26  

The nativity of Christ—when the divine creator of the universe was born onto the stage of human history as a small, vulnerable creature—is incomprehensible to say the least. To me, especially baffling and significant is the fact that God’s choice, from all eternity, was to make his debut in human form amid the mire, stench, and confusion of a stable. The scene of the babe in a manger in Bethlehem has become cliché, but this Christmas it has made a deep impact on me.

Peace comes in contemplating the creche, but as I surrender to the mystery of that first Christmas, I feel unsettled by the story behind the facade of a smiling holy family surrounded by porcelain animals. On that not-so-silent night, Joseph probably felt like a failure because he did not manage to secure a spot in an inn. Mary had never experienced childbirth, and she probably was worried about labor itself, not to mention the unexpected challenge of birthing in close proximity to livestock. As baby Jesus’ lungs gave his first hearty cry, the air he inhaled most likely reeked of manure, blood, and stale hay. The mystical moment was perhaps disrupted by rowdy animals, and the infant that the shepherds encountered may have been cold and uncomfortable rather than asleep on the hay.

God wanted to make absolutely clear that he does not want his coming to be equated with shiny, happy settings, but rather, that he intends to meet us in those places we find unsettling, shameful, or unclean. As a mother, I can miss the presence of God because I am insisting that I must make my home, my marriage, and my children perfect and orderly for God to reside within. I often drive myself to tears or rage by striving for the immaculate conditions I imagine he would want to find. But during this Christmas season, my heart is moved by the dirty feeding trough for beasts which held the divine child—the unblemished son of God who entered willingly into the ugliness and noise of our marred existence. He did not choose to appear in splendor and perfection, because he does not want us to feel unacceptable in our brokenness and shortcomings. He wants to be invited into our mess and misery, and from the middle of it all, to reign in hidden glory and power.

Sweet Christ child, I reluctantly offer you my failures and disappointments, my sins and shambles, along with all my love! Please, come and take up your throne in my heart and home this Christmas season and throughout the new year.

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