Tuesday, December 25, 2007

In those days Ceasar Agustus...

This year I have been thinking about Mary and what it must have been like to travel to Bethlehem and deliver Jesus in a stable. I have taken care of many ladies who are "with child" over the past few years. As I have heard their aches and pains and traveled through the 9 months with them, it has changed the way I read the story of Christ's birth.

At about 8 months, give or take a few weeks, most ladies hit the "tired of being pregnant stage". They are willing to do about anything to have the baby. I am not sure that includes riding a donkey. Mary must have been quite large and probably not comfortable in any position, much less traveling on a donkey.

The stable is not a place I would choose to deliver (granted, Mary didn't choose it either!). Besides the obvious reasons, there was no family, no doctor, no midwife- only a husband. Now, most of the husbands I have seen are about worthless for helping during a delivery. They are lucky if they can cut the umbilical cord without passing out! Did Joseph have any idea about what was happening? Also important to note is that there were no epidurals. NO epidurals?! That means Mary was in a LOT of pain and Joseph could do nothing. What did he do? How did he comfort his hurting wife?

Today we treat delivery as a sterile procedure (which, really it isn't). We use gowns and gloves. We have plastic drapes and when it is all over, the mess disappears in a second. I am sure Mary did her best to be clean, but it must have been a challenge. What did she do? Was the straw clean? I wonder how the smell affected her? How long was her labor?

And Jesus. He is the KING of the universe. He created the WORLD. And he came into this earth as a baby. Not a cute, clean, wrapped in swaddling clothes post card, but a naked, goo covered, wrinkly baby. Did he cry right away? Did he have a cone head? Who cut the cord?

I did a delivery last week and was reminded of the helplessness of the infant. God himself come to the world he created in the most dependant, fully human way that he could. He CHOSE to be born in a stable. He chose to be covered in goo, wrinkly and red...for me!

I read the Story different now. I see Mary's agony and feel Joseph's ache to help her. I hold my breath as Jesus is born, waiting for him to cry. And I am amazed. Again. That the love of God is so big that he would send his SON to earth to die. To die for MY sins that I might be considered clean and be in relationship with God. Thank you Jesus. Christmas is Good.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

I am...

"I am because we are. We are because I am. "

The Body of Christ is defined by its relationships. We have relationship with God, with other believers and with the world. At times these relationships are not all that they could be. As Americans, we are notoriously bad about relationship. We live in a culture of "I". Our motto is "I think therefore I am". We are defined only by ourselves, our accomplishments and our individual characteristics. We define ourselves without placing value on our community, family or history. We value self independence above relationship with others.

Over the past few weeks I have been challenged in this area by several different people, in several different venues. It seems that God is speaking. As We, the American Church, seek to live as Christ Followers and desire to impact our worlds, we must redefine ourselves. An African proverb defines self as the following. "I am because we are. We are because I am." In their world, it is impossible to define ones self outside of the context of community, family or history. A person is not an individual, rather a link in an intricately connected world. This perspective is missing from the Church. We are not individuals who happen to meet at the same time, at the same place every Sunday. We are, rather, a network of believers designed to live life together. We are designed to share joys and sorrows, to encourage and correct one another. I do not know how to live this life.

I have seen the loneliness that comes from individualism in my neighborhood. The desire to "belong", to be a part of a community drives young women to sleep around, searching for validation in a man. It leads bright, straight "A" students to gang life and the consequences of crime. It keeps women in abusive relationships, hoping against all evidence that "this time will be different".

We must learn to live in community. Our nation is crying out for hope. Our friends are crying out for a sense of belonging. We, the Body of Christ, must become that hope. We must become that belonging. It will not be easy. It involves giving up self and serving when no one notices. It means being available when it is not convenient. It means being a friend to those who society deems unworthy.

This is the example of Christ. He came from the glories of Heaven as a squalling infant to the indignity of a stable, a place fit only for animals. He lived among the marginalized and ate at the house of sinners. He paid the ultimate, painful, price for our selfish sins on the Cross. He died the death of a thief and conquered death that we might have Relationship with God. Yahweh. The King. Jehovah. This is the Ultimate Relationship.

Christmas is the season we celebrate the Birth of Christ and the beginning of what is the most amazing relationship in history. Unfortunately, it is a season that is commercialized and it is a season that caters to self gratification. My prayer this year is that we remember that relationship is more important than self. That no matter how independent we are, We Are because of our family, our community and our history. Because We Are, we have the ability to impact our communities and bring the healing relationship of Christ to a world that is so desperately searching. It is not a task that is possible alone. It is only by living in community, as the body of Christ, that He can do amazing things through us.

"But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus My Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow to attain to the resurrection from the dead.