Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Chapter I: Advent - Christmas Eve

Tonight is the night of Christ's birth. Traditionally, it has been observed with a vigil, at least through midnight. It is a hopeful, celebratory time, comparable to the moments (or hours) of a waiting family while a new mommy is in labour. Indeed, that is an excellent comparison, for that is exactly what we commemorate on this eve.

There is a lot that could be written, a lot that should be reflected upon, on this holy evening. But I find myself drawn to a rather uncomfortable reality about our modern understandings of this night. We like to soften and glamorize the night of our Saviour's birth, conveniently forgetting that Mary was giving birth in an animals' parlour. She likely had no assistance, other than her befuddled, confused, and helpless betrothed.

She certainly had no anesthetics or the knowledge of modern science to make the birthing process easier. Risk of infection would have been high in such a place, and something as simple as cutting Jesus' umbilical cord would have been a significant challenge to these foreign visitors.

If the birth truly happened in winter, and there is some reason to believe it did, the Child certainly would not have enjoyed the cold weather.

We have a notion in our culture that the first Christmas was a "silent night" on which "the Little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes". But this is ridiculous. Jesus was human. Mary was human. There were contractions. There was groaning. There was blood. Both mother and Child probably did a fair amount of screaming and crying that Night.

I find this oddly comforting. I think the romanticized version of the Christmas Story, much like the elevated status of Mary I mentioned in my previous post, puts the whole thing out of the realm of human experience. That Jesus screamed when He was born, that He cried when He was hungry, that He pooed his swaddling clothes, that Mary was confused and didn't know how to comfort Him, that she was exhausted and probably even frustrated at times, that Jesus probably had digestion problems, that Mary found breast-feeding her child inconvenient and uncomfortable, that Jesus woke up every two hours asking for food, that He may have even cried simply to cry (as most infants do at times), that all he basically did for several months was eat, poop, cry, and sleep... These things bring the Story into the realm of the Real, they bring both Mary and Jesus into the human race. And that offers real Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love - beyond anything that the idealistic and fantastical concepts of beauty and perfection for the first Christmas.

It was a night of pain, of confusion, of crying, discomfort, noise... It was a human night. This is not a story from Rivendell or Toy Land or Fairy Kingdom - this is a real story, in real human history.

Yet even with all of that, this Night was still special. I think that's what we are trying to get at when we talk about it being a "silent night" or "how still we see thee lie". As long as we understand that those phrases are metaphorical, that they are not intended to reflect a reality contradictory to human experience, then they are still useful.

This is the Night we recognize the reality that had happened nine months earlier: that God had entered the human experience. As I really listened to the Christmas music for the first time this year, I reflected on how much our observances of Christmas are different than the first Christmas - and that it not necessarily a bad thing.

To borrow some inspiration from one of the glorious Christmas hymns:

We are joyful and triumphant now.

He is the King of Angels again.

We are now citizens of Heaven.

So we sing, to a Baby Who couldn't understand us even if He had been born to English-speaking parents:

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
O come, let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

Merry Christmas to all!
And to all, a Good Night!

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