christmas comes in a 1981 chrysler minivan

Dec. 23, 1973: Elaborate figures create a dramatic Nativity scene in Old City Plaza adjacent to Olvera St. This photo was published in the Dec. 24, 1973 LA Times.

If we were writing the script for the redemption of mankind, we would certainly have written it differently than God did. He chose to reveal Himself to us NOT in the greatest, grandest possible way, but in a way that we could never think of.

The Creator came into the world as a helpless, defenseless baby. He has to be fed and changed and covered so that he doesn’t freeze at night. His nose runs and he can catch cold. Yet this is the method God chose.

Let me repaint the picture. God chose to be born to humble, poor parents. He wasn’t born in a palace but in a stable. When we sing that the cattle were “lowing”, it means their moos were probably keeping everyone awake. Yet the one Christians call God’s Son was born to a young couple whose hearts were pure but who held no worldly influence. They were plain, ordinary, obscure individuals. Yet they were the ones God chose to be the earthly parents of Jesus.

Luke records in his Gospel account of Christ’s birth that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem to register for the census. All the motels are full. Although Joseph comes from this place, no one of his extended family will find even a couch for the expectant mother. So they fall on the hospitality of the inn manager, who offers them a pile of hay in the barn. They stayed in a barn. Can you imagine the look Mary gave Joseph when he showed her their “room” for the night? Joseph, being the good husband he was, probably tried to move the manure away from the place where they were going to rest. He put some clean straw on the ground, and perhaps ties the cow or sheep off to one side. But it was still a barn, with barnyard smells and noises.

While there, the time came for the baby to be born. The young mother does not have a midwife or nurse to help in the process. Sadly, her mother is not there, nor her aunt or cousins. But birth takes place in the normal messy way. A tiny boy is born, just as the angels announced to her months before. The teenage mother does not have any baby clothes from a neighborhood baby shower, or cute infant clothes given as gifts from her family to dress the infant in. She wraps her son in strips of cloth, perhaps torn from blankets or an old dress. She doesn’t have a crib she can set up,or even a soft pillow, but the manger, the stone food trough for the cattle and donkey, seems about the right size.

God Incarnate comes to earth, with no place, born to a family with little goods and no protective family in a barn behind an inn in a small, wayward town. Wow.

Do you really get how crazy this miracle is? It would have been like Prince Charles being born to Queen Elizabeth on a road trip through Chama, New Mexico. The newest Royal would be delivered in the back of a 1981 Chrysler minivan, by the flickering light of neon “No Vacancy” signs back by the dumpster. The smells would be heavy. The Prince then is laid by the Queen in a cardboard box that used to hold cans of corn, and wrapped with those blue paper towels one finds in the gas station rest room. The birth is heralded, of course, but only by a passing car horn and a stray dog bark. No trumpets or parades or crowds.

A future King is born like a penniless immigrant. This is the story of the first Christmas.

Makes me think. The King of Christmas comes to ordinary people, and for ordinary people. God redefines what is valuable and necessary at Christmas, doesn’t he? Not royal trumpets or religious leaders. Not fancy homes or nice gifts. Not lights or trees. The first Christmas rests on faithful and available blue-collar folks, who are overwhelmed by a large helping of the powerful Spirit of God. This is enough for the reality of Christmas. God comes to us.  Emmanuel. “God with Us.” God comes to us, to our homes, to where we live. God moves into the neighborhood, poor as it is.

 Mother Teresa said it this way: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

Our God—it seems—is willing to start in our homes with our personal poverty. He is quite at home in a Chrysler minivan. And I am so thankful he is.

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