Originally posted on December 14, 2018
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the LORD!
Hymn sung each Christmas Eve in our worship tradition. Words riding on melody soaring up into rafter beams. Organ pulling out celebratory stops. Chords supporting voices in singing as one voice, one body. Some standing in this knowledge. Others in ignorance. All in hope for some inexpressible need.
Together chanting lyrics verse after verse calling for some sort of congregational effort. Text expressing felt want to be near the child. Not only in singing. Walking word by word toward him. Yet as we do, discovering a thin infant. Just having slid through the birth canal. Tiny, discolored, sticky with blood. Face screwed up. Smelling of birth. Hope draining out. Adore this one? Why?
Newborn’s family visiting Bethlehem only under governmental orders. Parents finding no place in homes and hearts of those with doors this night. Citizens blind, but not really, to Mary’s bulging belly. Man at each door saying “no,” while behind him cowers a woman. Scrubbing a pot. Mending a tunic. Silently asking for mercy with each stitch and scour.
Perhaps it is an old crone in the corner at the last door who risks nothing this night. Her aged bones aching. Sight fading. Fingers gnarling. Tired of justifying the food it takes to keep her alive each day. Her heart in those five tiny mounds below the hill. Perhaps it is this old woman Joseph hears behind the last door’s keeper. In the hanging quiet between his ask and a stranger’s answer. After nervously begging for the seemingly small necessity of shelter. Having come this far in an unwanted journey. Far from home. Far from normal. Joseph scared into defying culture by an angelic, winged, fearsome messenger in the night. Now scared for Mary, himself, and an unknown future. Barely hearing the words uttered from within this place. Delivered in a gravely, high-pitched voice. The old mother making one last admonishment. “Well go on. Give them the barn at least. Better than digging another grave at dawn.”
Further fear and embarrassment for Joseph serving as midwife just a few hours later. Relieved when the wife of the place sneaks out with somewhat fresh water and a few rags. Because she can’t sleep after the first birth pangs ring through crystal, clear night. Resonating off her hollow womb while her husband snores, blissfully ignorant of this night’s worth. Finding Mary moaning. Her hormones surging. Regretting saying “yes,” to that crazy angel. The wife nodding. Understanding the anger of birth pains. Squeezing her hand. Murmuring words of support before hurrying back. Not wanting to be discovered absent from her place.
Night’s wind seeping in through doorless openings and cracks. Snorts, smells, and stars accompanying birthing howls. Surroundings ringing dissonance into the night. After a final push when all seems so terribly lost, a slim-shouldered, hairy neonate slides to the floor below crouching mother. Amidst dirty hay and dried animal feces. No harmonic overtones reverberating with cries of new life. The crone at inn’s hearth muttering, “he’ll be cold by morning if we don’t get the mother some broth.”
Waking the oldest girl sleeping nearby. “Take this bowl to the mother,” she orders. Girl obeying. Also curious about the strangers. Thankful for this adventure breaking in on her pre-determined monotony.
It’s the girl who holds the babe while Mary sips. The third to stare at him in awe. Joseph off on hill’s ledge staring into stars. Overwhelmed by what happened. Even though it did not happen to his body. His life never in peril. Remembering Abraham. Knowing he, Joseph, is no patriarch. Feeling more like a pawn.
The girl passes the newborn babe back to Mary. Watches him suckle. Then sleep before creeping back to her pallet. Assuring grandmother all is well this night. Not questioning why this little being should be adored. Her mother having taught her to listen to the wisdom of the body.
Not like us now. Adore him? For what? So we can now fully adore the dirty man sitting on the sidewalk asking for money? And the youths throwing punches or bullets at each other in high school hallways? Adore the family climbing into a life raft and the soldiers pursuing them. Adore the “me too” survivor and her predator. Adore the family member, neighbor, friend whose politics send us spinning? Adore every person in the squad car? Adore the beautiful soul hidden under depths of substance addiction and her dealer or doctor? Adore the dirty, the violent, the undesirable, and all our culture’s un-adorables?
Easier as we exchange presents, trim trees, and gobble up holiday treats to not adore him or anyone. Whirl around in our busyness, forgetting. Leaving this baby under the tree fending for himself. Or placing him in another room where we cannot hear his cries for food. Bury our modern-mixed-with-age-old knowledge of human infant needs under distilled spirits, bigger screens, and business. Blocking out that article we read online recently about how infants experience hunger as true pain. And soiled diapers left unchanged infuse their little bodies with worthlessness. Crying it out teaches lonely individualism not relational well-being. Prolonged separation from parents creates trauma’s breeding ground for current and future pain. Lack of human interaction causes an all body shut-down called failure-to-thrive.
Maybe this infant is just too much work. Deciding right after the big day while still off work or stuffed with too much merriment to return this child whose reality smacks us in the face. Wrap him in swaddling clothes and lie him in an Amazon Prime box. Affix a preprinted label, and drop him off at the post office. Ask to exchange him for something or someone more to our liking. A gift asking nothing of us. One in which our own internal wrappings stay tightly wound around our souls. Our truths never exposed even to us. Shunning the messenger’s words, “do not be afraid.”
Words heard by Mary long ago. Embraced and in doing so risking her life and future of her unborn child. Holding her heart full with all sorts of thoughts and feelings. Not all comfort and joy. Praising God when really what else can she do? Running away meaning life on the street. Begging for food. Using her disassociated body for survival. In saying “yes” making a choice to stay. Clasping fear to swelling breasts. Uttering words of praise, “my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
“Do not be afraid,” heard also by lonely, smelly shepherds staying in fields. Probably because no one else in their little, little, world welcomed them into village or home. Undesirables ostracized into hills. Trusted with necessary function of tending sheep. But out of sight. Out of mind. Found in their hiding by God’s messengers with an invitation into awe. Risking their livelihoods for a chance to adore another human. When so often denied any exchange of humanly love.
We try to ignore these words, “do not be afraid.” Thinking they cannot possibly be meant for us now. Part of a quaint story told each Advent and Christmastide from long ago. But this hungry, cold, pooping, spitting up, sort-of un-adorable baby somehow breaks through our internal walls anyway. Not with words. But with wails cutting into inner workings of bodies. Dwelling in our hearts. Causing agitation in our nervous systems. Our empty breasts to ache. Our stiff arms to fill with yearning. So much yearning we must pick up him up. Keep him at arm’s length until his small body melds into ours. Then we sway. Feeling fully alive. Cherishing the moment. Washed with felt love. And his sweet baby smell. Existing together, almost as one. Not fully. Yet needing the other. For different reasons. Need though none-the-less.
What if we were to adore the un-adorable? What then for us? For them? What if we heard their wails, unsounded, emanating from deep within their hearts? What if we understood our need for them. Perhaps greater than their need for us? Would we then leave our sheep, our only way of life, like the shepherds did? Or give up the right to abandon or kill like Joseph? Bring a family to shelter. Sneak food to them in the night? Give them basic human supplies defying cultural expectations?
Our singing this night of all nights is not static. We do not perform a yearly empty ritual before going home to egg nog, a fire, and our annual viewing of Elf or It’s a Wonderful Life. These words call us to action. The lyricist is poetic. But he commands in imperative, “get going!” Go and adore the Christ child alive in all of us and in all others now. Leave wants behind the inn door next to the old crone. Sing in a choir of earthly messengers to a deaf world. Answer the cries of the child now with our opening arms. Feed the child now as if our breasts are about to leak milk or our own child’s life depends on it. Support the mother and father now as if we were once penniless. Give shelter to the family now as if we know homelessness. Adore the child now with trembling fear and courage like Mary. And in doing so, see God face-to-face, “now in flesh appearing.”
All photos courtesy of Pixabay. Glass window by Hanneke Visschers at Pixabay.
O Come, All Ye Faithful, text and music attributed to John Francis Wade.
Scripture quoted from Luke 1:30; 46-47, and Luke 2:10. (NRSV)
Scripture referred to from Matthew 1:19-21 and Luke, 1-2.