Very often in the past I have made some negative comment on the Christmas crib scene. The idea of the baby Jesus, “no crying he makes” with cattle lowing and smelling of sweet grass gives the impression of a perfect baby in a pristine situation, when there is so much about this birth that is all wrong – the stable rather than a proper home, the young unmarried mother and the scandal involved with the culture of the time and the threat posed by Herod. Surely the baby wept as does every other new born.
But I wonder if it makes sense to linger a little on the scene and be still and wonder. The children of our church put on a wonderful Nativity Play just before Christmas and it was a joy to see. The idea of shepherds and wise men squeezing past each other to get to the crib, being asked to be quiet for the sake of the family by the innkeeper whose heart has been melted by what has occurred out at the back of his inn is quite a thought.
A new birth is enough to melt the hardest heart. Every new life is a miracle and seeing our children take their first breath is a privilege and wonder that will stay with me all my life. I was profoundly moved by the story of Olga Yetikoua, a midwife working in the Central African Republic as it was shown recently on Channel 4’s Unreported World. http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/articles/all/seyis-central-african-republic-experience
This brave woman leaves the security of her home and family for a few months each year and travels to one the poorest and most conflict ridden parts of her vast country to help bring new lives into the world. Hearing her talk with such joy and satisfaction over helping a new life to come into the world, even in the face of terrible conditions reminded me that we are standing in the midst of miracle and wonder at any birth, be it in a conflict zone or a maternity unit in a western city. Such circumstances sow the seeds of hope. So, it is good to dwell a little on the crib scene at Bethlehem and take in the peace, stillness and calm for a few moments. (We never can be sure how long to dwell in certain places. Do we for example spend too much time in the build up to Good Friday and have a quick service, roll and egg and go off on holiday as soon as Easter comes?) So let’s allow ourselves to linger a while in this scene of calm.
There have been storms raging around our shores for the last week and it was Frederick Buechner who reminded me that in the eye of every storm there is a place of calm, a place where “even silence keeps silence”. This is that moment, for the birth of Jesus unleashes a great storm of unsettlement and challenge on humanity and the winds blow as powerfully now as they have ever done.
What we are doing joining this motley crew around the crib is sharing in a sense of wonder at the holy babe who inherits the world that we have tried to love. It takes a certain amount of still ness to take all that in. So, turn aside, tread a new path, go home by another way – like Moses pause to look at the lit bush he saw burning “and yet it was not consumed”, for in the face of this child we see the eternity that awaits us.