Tuesday, December 15, 2009

4:32 a.m. by Michelle Hindman (1)

4 :32 a.m. - A deserted parking garage, silent night suddenly shattered by screams, echoing, of a young woman, her sweaty hair tangled around her straining neck, who is leaning against the cool, gasoline-smelling wall, eyes rimmed-red, and breath coming short with pain, one white-knuckled hand gripping the collar of old sweatshirt, naked otherwise, the other clenching the calloused hand of the man speaking slowly, shakily . His steady hands don’t say he is scared all the same by the blood, oh God, why her(e)? he is thinking, but he whispers encouragement, lips closely to her damp forehead, which knocks against his teeth painfully at once as she, shifting suddenly, cries out and braces, breathlessly, for another wave.

Both too weary for the wonder of it, scant energy for the scandal, as joy and desperation and a newborn’s wail resound through the garage, they laugh wearily at the soft coat in a clean box laying nearby, Eyebrows raised and hands thrown up, smilingly taking the child gently from her limp and thin arms, the young man rests the small red burden in the makeshift crib, the cardboard creche. Next he takes her as carefully as he can under the knees and back and moves her shuddering with pain from the halo of blood beneath her, hardly immaculate, wholly human, she falls asleep against the wall as he makes an embarrassed attempt to clean her up a little. He takes her in his arms instead and lets her sleep against his chest, her mouth a little open. Carefully he covers her so as not to wake her .

Quite a desperate scene, really, certainly not the kind of thing children act in pageants or sweet songs croon about - a young couple with a trail of shame in a small town on a busy night and not a clue where they’re going next. And this is how Christmas comes. Not in gold and glitter, but flesh and cries that cut through trite Christmas cards and commercialism. The Almighty pieced on frailty and dressed Himself in something we could understand, coming through blood and screams later to give His own. Behold Him, “wearing our sewage, breathing our air”, coming to a world ready to ignore Him, slow to understand, coming to our world, in a truth so mysterious it feels like blasphemy. It simply won’t do, we think, as we look on the God of the universe as a pinkened ball of flesh, that will suffer and grow up and love and die like we do, but yet unlike we do - it simply can’t be that this is how Christmas comes, a Savior descended through prostitutes and Kings and a scared teenage girl.

Part of us sings Silent Night and Away in a Manger, and looks at the serene, pale face of Mary in the stained glass, and really believes it all happened with beams of light and haloes and pink cherubs peeking over the side of a picturesque stable. And then we wonder why we can’t feel the Christmas spirit and why the nativity feels so distant and get all worked up about how little the world appreciates what things are really about and shake our head at political correctness, but the thing is, in our excitement over the wise men and the shepherds bowing down and worshipping, we forget that the vast majority of Bethlehem residents were asleep and unaware, that mostly the unusual star was just a centerpiece of small-talk as they waited in line at the malls, and that thousands who had unwittingly lived through the greatest miracle in history went about their business without the least echo of angel’s songs. And this is how Christmas comes.

It comes to a world very like our own, convinced after 400 years of silence that miracles and exoduses have solidified into the comfortable religion we know and practice, to us who are convinced that if we keep the Sabbath and try not to see R-rated movies and write a check to Salvation Army now and then and listen to the Pharisees debate back and forth and try to be good Roman-American citizens, God will be with us. Not too close, just enough to give a benevolent push to our everyday goings on, just enough of God with us to make us feel good. But that is not the way God chose to be with us. He came as Emmanuel, God really and truly with us, as us, clothing Himself in ourselves to such perfection that we can never quite be comfortable in our own skins again.

I think sometimes we feel like we can’t quite feel Christmas because it is located in some kind of musical-world where peasants burst into song and rhyme at the coming of God and everyone understood what was happening, instead of for what it really is:
The God-man coming, covered in blood and all the unpleasant trappings of mortality, in secret and shame to a world that promptly ignored Him. A world with its own squabbling church divisions of conservatives and liberals giving a horrific representation of God to the unbelieving, a world ridden with commercialism, even if in marble columns instead of designer bags, to a world of sexual molesters and half-hearted charity and imperfect love and violent warfare, where also worlds were conquered for the sake of oil or just for the sake of owning them, and people were killed for sport and spousal abuse and slavery and gossip...

And this is how Christmas comes. Saving the world that never asked to be saved, without thanks, without recognition, with only its own love for reward.

And this is how Christmas comes to us. The medievals had a philosophical idea that man is a microcosm of the universe, and I think there’s some truth to that. That Christ comes to us in our 400 years of silence and our divisions and our filfth and is born in us. In our scandalous, broken souls, in the empty parking garages of our impoverished humanity, he makes camp and sets up to live forever.

We are Christmas, you and I

It is always there. The miracle of God in the midst of sin, the incarnation of love in selfishness, as real as the sweet breath of God in a dung-smelling stable. And despite our best efforts, despite our most determined ignorance of the heavenly star and the angels song that announces God come to us, He is there to stay, Christ inside of us who will grow to maturity and spread love to all around us.
And this is how Christmas comes.

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