Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Familiar Story, Retold

The sun sets over the rough rooftops, the dirty crowded streets. The weary couple push through milling multitudes, past patrolling soldiers. The pregnant girl is pushed by passers-by. She grimaces as another contraction wracks her small body. But still, she thinks, the journey was worth it. This distant city is the perfect place to escape the shame of small-town gossip.

The innkeeper can smell the scandal, but he softens, wipes his hands on his apron, and takes them out back, to the straw-strewn stables. He sends a boy running for the midwife and lights a lamp. You can use this pile of hay. No forget it, you don't have to pay.

The place hangs heavy with the thick earthy smell of animals. A damp chill rises from the stone floor. The lamps sputter in the random drafts from the open doorway.

The father stands helplessly by, listening to her cries, her tears, her animal-like sounds, watching her face clenched and furrowed by pain. I don’t understand, this can’t be right, he thinks, why did we have to hide here? Maybe that angel was just a dream. Well, I’ll know for sure if it’s a girl, or if he has a Roman nose, or if he looks like Eli from down the street.

Push, the old midwife says, push.

The mother barely thinks beyond the next contraction; they come so quickly now, she is barely coherent. I don’t understand, this can’t be right, she thinks, I was highly favoured, I was blessed – why does it hurt so much? And it hurts – so – much! Where is Gabriel now? My God, why have you abandoned me?

But no angels appear to her, and she is not comforted.

There, in the pungent dimness, a squalling baby boy spills into the world and history hinges, the universe upends, a donkey defecates and a horse kicks the door of its stall.

A group of ragged men lie around a tiny flickering fire. One, without even a blanket, looks into the fire and says, my uncle has land up north, he's going to send for me one of these days, and I'll be sleeping in a real bed. Another man, lying on his back, scorns, yeah and my sheep shit gold denarii. The men all laugh. The fire dies down. And then, the sky opens like a white rose blooming, and these scarred, ragged men with their yellowed broken teeth become heaven's only audience, lonely witnesses to the immense glory of God's paternal rejoicing. Their cold journey to the dingy stable is the only pilgrimage this chilly night.

Who understands the mind of God? Who comprehends the willful humiliation of his beloved Son? Why hide His Glory in dirty obscurity? Who knows? But he still does it. His Spirit still chooses the most unlikely places to take up residence. Now, he comes to dwell in the muddy messes of our lives.

(Copyright 2009, Creative Commons Attribution Only licensed, Alan Bruce. Please link to this post in attribution)