The man who saved the world


News flash: some people smell.  They are dirty and have bad yellow rotten teeth and are downright creepy.  There is mental illness and instability and greed and lust and all kinds of nasty in the world.  People hurt.  People harm.  People leave damage in their wake.  Others cover up their scent by brushing their teeth and shopping at Nordstrom.  But on some level and in different ways, we all have dark sins raging.  We fail to trust and wait and submit. We are told to give up all our wealth and follow Jesus, and yet we balk and twitch.  No Superbowl Sunday?  Nuh-uh.  Crazy fool.

Even way back in Jesus’ day, there were men lying in fields who didn’t choose to lay with their wives and bounce children on their knees like respectable people.  They smelled the same as sheep because they lived with them.  They never cleaned behind their ears or washed out their mouths with soap and chose a dirty profession like animal wrangling over jail to escape the reality of doom that befell them in the real world.  There are always broken people that don’t fit well in the real world.

These people.  These shepherds.  These men without hope and women who sold their bodies and slaves who bore deep red marks of shame?

Jesus came for them.  On a dark night thousands of years ago, he came.  Jesus came for the f*#k-ups. 

Don’t be fooled that you have some sort of special place in line.  That by churching it up and having monogrammed napkins you earned a place.  You are just one of these dirty huddled masses.  God looks at the soul not the skin, so you can skip brushing your hair for Christmas Eve Service because it doesn’t much matter in the long run. Jesus wasn’t born in Upper-Middle-Class Suburbia, in a garden tub surrounded by the glow of an Orange-Vanilla Yankee candle.  I think it’s harder for us middle-class, brushing-teeth types to fall on our knees.  To drop it all and follow.  To hear the heavenly chorus.  We have surround sound, and microwaves, and our hearts are too plugged up to ache.  We have pills for that these days.

Shepherds didn’t ask for Jesus.  They didn’t pay for tickets.  They certainly didn’t earn the right to see him face-to-face.  And yet as they were lying by a smoking fire in the middle of nowhere, angels appeared.  Legions of them shrouded in golden light.  And these dirty travelers?  These jail dodgers and broken hearts? They dropped everything and ran to the child.  They followed the brilliant light to feel peace in the mere shadow of the prince.

Jesus came for the blind and deaf and weak.  The man who hates himself and loathes what he has done and feels inadequate with his life.  The screwed-up mess of a woman who is ripped and addicted and empty.  Jesus came in the night, piercing through clothes and expensive perfume and black mascara straight to broken, aching hearts.  He came for you.  And all at once, it all falls away.  A calm beyond words.  A peace beyond understanding.  The wings of angels cover, and you know.  Sweet Jesus.  There in the street and in the wallpapered hospital room and in the bathroom stall.  He comes to you where you are, smelly or not.

We don’t deserve such love.  And yet God reaches to the farthest corners of the world for us.  There is no field dark enough or prison wall thick enough.  He peers into the very essence of death and pulls out life.  All we have to do is leave the old and follow.  The light is blinding.  The angels are calling.  Jesus is whispering in the night, in dreams and visions and is saying our name right there in front of our bloody faces.  He is born!  Come, and follow.

Merry Christmas.  From one f*#k-up to another.  


lessons in carols

I love to sing.  I sing in the kitchen and in the car.  I sing as I mop and as I dress.  I dictate instructions to my children in song – sometimes changing the key midstream to see if anyone’s paying attention.  You don’t want me all up-in-your-business singing “you came from my womb, now clean up your room, I’ll fill you with doom if you refuse me,” and don’t think my daughter can’t whip out some do-re-me action on a dime.  That’s hard-core training, people.   I can’t wait until my daughter is in junior high so she can fill up her little journal about how her mother is a total lunatic and is so totally unaware of how annoying she is.  Oh I know, sweetheart.  It’s all part of my master plan of totally family domination.  Breaking down spirits with excessive vibrato.


Given my natural affinity for song, however, I was naturally pumped to sing a solo at Christmas eve service. I wore black and had a wonderful pianist and stood in front of my church congregation, candles-a-ready, and began.  I was a bit worried about my lip gloss.  Priorities, you know.  But it all started out fine.  It was calm and serene, and after a moment, people started to smile and close their eyes.  It was a story told long ago, about a child born of Mary. A song of peace and new birth.   About pure hearts and renewed spirits.  A song of –


Uh oh.


Out of nowhere, I hear a bellowing cry from the back of the church. A man is practically falling over himself to escape from the aisle with a child in his arms.  A child who happens to be my son.  After getting a glimpse of his mother at the front of the church, standing alone with a spotlight on her face, he decides to declare to the people sitting around, and the old-folks home next door, and to the Burger King down the street, that his mother is there. In case they didn’t notice.


“Ma MAAAAAAAAA!” he shrieks with delight.  “Hi Mama!  Hi Mama!” He is fervently waving with both hands in the air.  He must think I can’t hear him, although the room is silent except for my voice and you can literally hear fabric rub together when someone crosses their legs.  He bumps the volume up a bit.  “Mamaaa!  Mama SINGGGGG!”  He is thrilled at my existence, even though I just saw him five minutes ago. I can see my husband apologize to someone as he barrels past knees and blazers and candles on his way out the door.


I try to remain calm.  If Oleta Adams sang this song in front of thousands, I can surely keep it together as my husband takes my screaming son into the foyer. Where, as it turns out, he sees me again on the video screens and starts with a renewed round of heartfelt hellos and fervent waving.


All of a sudden, out of embarrassment or distraction, I lost my place.  I was in the middle of a stanza about finding inner peace when I had a panic attack.  I drew out the note, ran through a mental checklist of oh crap, where’s the coda and I freaking sang that part already and I’m screwed, and my kind accompanist just slowed things down like the whole thing was planned.  I smiled and turned the page, which made no sense since it was the wrong page to begin with.  I’m pretty sure I did some sort of corny hand gesture. Awesome.  My husband will never let me live that one down.


I had exactly four beats to make a decision, so I just picked right back up, singing the exact same thing I did before, making up additional words when necessary. My daughter, now parent free, is standing in her beautiful Christmas dress at the back of the church just waving at me.  She is beaming with pride.  She doesn’t know I’m sweating and hoping no one noticed I repeated the entire second verse and praying for the song to end.  It finally did, and I sat down with a solemn heart.  What a waste, I thought.


But my family was so proud, and my husband laughed so hard, and when it was all said and done I felt that this is what the Christmas story is all about, anyway.  It’s not calm and morose and black and perfect.  Birth isn’t filled with candles and sweet syrupy lyrics and everyone sitting around in navy blazers.


Birth is crying and screaming and pushing and sweating.  It’s seeing a part of God come out in human form in front of you.  Your heart is bursting like a water balloon and you feel surrounded and sustained by pure, unaltered, unabashed joy.  Joy at living.  Joy at this child you created.  Joy at seeing someone you love in front of you, not caring how your reaction looks to the world around you.  Thank God for our son, who reminded me of this. Thank God for Jesus, born screaming out the love of God and not caring who heard it.  And thank God for Mary, who probably thought she was screwing it all up.  But she wasn’t.

And that’s the best lesson of them all.