Oh Advent, how I struggle with thee. Between the Hallmark movies telling me I just need someone to help me find my Christmas cheer, the to do list that I truly do love fulfilling, the gifting, the parties, the traditions we're trying to begin and maintain with our children, the keeping Christ in Christmas, I mean, pick your typical mantra and what ails you at the holidays and insert it here. Oh, and don't forget to rest in there somewhere, right next to the partridge in a pear tree and my Grandmother's coffee cake recipe. I just... love this time of year, and equally dread its arrival. Now that its here, I think I've finally figured out what I need in order to make it through all this holi-drama... I need those people in that manger scene in my home to be real. I need them to take on flesh and bone and faith and be real to me.
I think what's frustrating about this scene from a Biblical sense, is we know so little about it. Literally, all we have from scripture are these words from Luke:
The angels that appear to the shaking shepherds also make mention of a birth and say in verse 12 “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The shepherds then seek them out, and they find this little family in verse sixteen, just as they were told they would; together in a stable with a baby in a food trough.
If you know me in real life or online, its pretty hard to miss that I love music. This year, I have had an album by an artist named Andrew Peterson on repeat called “Behold the Lamb of God.” The songs on the album are like a musical storybook that bring the foretelling and coming of Jesus to life from Genesis until His birth and offers such a vulnerable perspective of the ancient texts that guide us into Advent. One of my absolute favorite songs on the album is called “Labor of Love,” and it serves as a narrative for Mary that is beautiful and breathtaking. It reminds the listener about how raw that Christmas night in a barn must have been for her and for her loyal Joseph. The first lyrics go like this:
“It was not a silent night; there was blood on the ground.
You could hear a woman crying in the alleyway that night on the streets of David's town.
And the stable was not clean, and the cobblestones were cold.
Little Mary full of grace, with the tears upon her face, and no mother's hand to hold
It was a labor of pain, it was a cold sky above.
For the girl on the ground in the dark
Every beat of her beautiful heart was a labor of love.”
I don't know about you, but the first time I understood what that lyric conveyed, I was transfixed. It made that simple Nativity scene come alive to me in a whole new way. It put flesh on bone and brought the simple faith of a young, scared Jewish couple into whirling technicolor. As I've stared at Mary in a whole new light, it has also moved my eyes to the baby in her arms. Fully God. Fully man. A baby in a barn. Then, I stopped, and this thought came to me: Why do we believe that baby Jesus didn't cry?
I look back in the frustratingly detail limited ancient text and see nothing about what baby Jesus was doing and all I see is that he was born, and that he lay in manger. Now, maybe its the fact that I have an almost 6 month old talking, but no matter how I've tried, I can't shake the question. I've been able to bring Mary and Joseph to life (thank you, Mr. Peterson), I can weep with them, I can breathe the sigh of relief in afterbirth with them, but I cannot get my head around a silent baby Jesus. Where did that come from? Am I navigating some sort of weird sacrilegious bunny trail down the road of Advent? Unbidden, I hear the old hymn “Away in a Manger” in the back of my mind.
“Away in a manger
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Lay down His sweet head....
The cattle are lowing
The Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes...”
A-ha! There it is. No crying he makes. But is that real? I think according to scripture... we just don't know. But here's what I'm wondering. Maybe its because I have an almost 6 month old and I'm fresh from the birth experience, but if that baby in that scene is going to be real to me this Christmas, I need Him to be alive. And what is the sign of life from a baby that every Mother who has ever labored has longed to hear in order to ease her pain and relieve her longing for relief? Their baby's cry. Its a sign of life. Its a sign that this baby that has been given to them is with tangibly with them on this earthen sod and wonderfully alive. I just wonder what that must have been like for Mary and Joseph. To know who He was on the inside, but to hear Him, in a mess of hay and fabric, Immanuel, God with us, miraculously and wonderfully alive on the outside. That brings that little scene to life to me. This little family relishing in the mess the great gift that has been given, and I can ache with all of creation as life as this Earth knew it shifted. He is here. He has come. He is alive.
So now, as I still stare down that list, as I plan for gathering with my family, as I intentionally plan out gifting, as I read the ancient story to my children, its just a little brighter. The echo of the chorus that must have come from within the barn rings in my ears. And the cry that shattered hundreds of years of longing reminds me that one day, another sound, perhaps even a cry, will serve as a sign that all of life on Earth will shift again. You see, He did not just come to cause a ruckus and then leave us behind, He came to rescue us, to deliver us and to make way for us to live in Hope with Him forever and ever. That baby in my Nativity Mary's arms; He is alive. Hallelujah.