A dear friend of mine and a fantastic friend to this community introduced me to an amazing picture. Simply titled “The Nativity” by artist Gari Melchers.
Artist: Gari Melchers
The caption included with the image when my friend sent it to me stated: “This. This is Christmas. Exhausted Mary, overwhelmed Joseph, and the Child who will change everything.”
Now I’m no art expert, and I didn’t know anything about the artist before looking him up on the Internet, but I think that caption totally nails his intent.
When we think of a nativity scene, what do we think of? Little plastic or ceramic figures, posed carefully on a shelf or under our Christmas tree. Mary is usually kneeling as if in prayer to her newborn son, Joseph with a staff and usually a lantern, as if he’s standing guard, the Babe looking angelic and in nothing but a diaper or even nude, the shepherds and the animals and the three wise men…. It’s all very renaissance-esque.
But in our little figures and manger scenes, we forget the reality, the raw, bloody, exhausting reality of human childbirth.
Christians believe Jesus is the son of God. In the Trinity, for those that believe in it, Jesus with the Father and Holy Spirit is God. But putting aside the complicated theology, let’s just look at the Sunday School version that we tell our kids:
God sent Jesus from heaven to save us from our sins.
Jesus came from heaven to be born human.
In a manger.
I don’t know how many of you are parents but have you witnessed a child being born? Not the sanitized version they might have shown you in health class, I’m talking the real screaming and crying and blood and gore and ick. And in our 21st-century life, most children are born in a sanitized hospital. Imagine that scene on the floor of a barn.
Look back at our painting. Mary passed out against the wall, her clothing dirty, a hint of blood pooling around her on the ground. Too tired to move, too much pain to care. The aftermath of even a smooth birth looks like a crime scene. The Bible doesn’t give us details of the birth, whether it was an easy or difficult birth, but we can imagine what it might have looked like. Not our clean, neat manger scene, but the dirty, bloody, messy reality of childbirth in a barn.
Jesus’s first moments on this world were not with kings and shepherds and angels. It was with screaming and blood and feces and dirt and hay. He left heaven, to be born into that.
My new artist friend, Gari Melchers, captures that perfectly.
But more than Mary and Babe, we have Joseph. We don’t know much about him, just that he was a carpenter, that he thought of leaving Mary but stayed with her. The last we see of him in the Bible is when Jesus is 12 and gets left behind at the temple. We can guess that Joseph passed away before Jesus reached adulthood and began his ministry. He never lived to hear his son (stepson, if you will) preach and teach.
But here he is, keeping watch over the newborn laying in the hay, a lantern by the infant’s head keeps him warm. Frustrated, confused, tired, overwhelmed. What’s he thinking? At this moment he’s alone, no visitors have arrived yet. He had to leave his home and business to come to Bethlehem for some stupid census called for by the Romans or maybe the Jewish king, only to be turned away from the house and forced to stay in a barn. He’s tired, maybe angry, maybe frustrated with God, but he’s keeping watch as a father should.
Our modern Christmases, with our lights and trees and presents and songs and food… none of that was there in those first moments with tears and blood and exhaustion.
Let us not forget the true meaning of Christmas. Let us not forget what Jesus gave up to be born into such circumstances.
Merry Christmas. Peace. On Earth.
Originally published on Wordpress