Everybody gets to hold the Baby Jesus

I do know that it is Lent and not Advent. But someone just reminded me of what I said this past Christmas Eve, and so I thought I’d repost–with a few minor updates.

My friend Robert is a pastor who also teaches a Bible course at a local university. This year, when they were talking about Luke 2, he gave his class a primer on shepherds and how they weren’t nearly as pristine as our nativity scenes would have us believe. They were really the outcasts of society—dirty, smelly and more comfortable outside with the sheep than inside with the people.

One of the young women in the class, raised in an era of Purel in every classroom, asked, “Do you think the dirty, smelly shepherds got to hold the baby Jesus?”

Did they get to hold the baby Jesus? This question hit a little too close to home for me.

When our daughter was born, I was interning at a church in South Boston. Sandwiched between two housing projects, Fourth Presbyterian was a mixture of young up-and-coming professionals, the borderline homeless, people living with HIV and kids from the projects who came without their parents. It was a place where Alice, the first woman ordained into the PCUSA in the state of Massachusetts worshipped next to Jimbo, a home health aid who lived illegally in a condemned building. The congregation was filled with people of many different colors and backgrounds who came in varying degrees of cleanliness and mental health.

My husband and I were like all first time parents—completely clueless and trying our best to do right by this tiny human being those insane people at the hospital had allowed us to bring home. Our efforts included making sure that everyone who held her had freshly washed hands and no visible signs of illness.

It came time to go back to church. We knew there was no way to shield her from the love and grimy hands and sometimes-alcohol-tinged breath of our congregation. So we just handed over our baby and said our prayers and tried to keep up with who was holding her as she was passed from person to person. The joy in the room smoothed over any anxiety I may have had. (My husband may tell this story differently.)

So my guess, is that, yes, the shepherds got to hold the Baby Jesus. Not because they were qualified childcare workers or because they had used the hand sanitizer before coming into the stable. Maybe it was because, Mary and Joseph, like all new parents had no idea what they were doing. Maybe it was because the shepherds showed up when aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents failed to. Or maybe, just maybe, just probably, it was because everyone gets to hold the baby Jesus. That’s the whole point. Jesus came for us all, even the sweatiest and smelliest among us.

Gosh, imagine if we all actually lived as if we believed that. That Jesus came for us all. That the Creator of all things, the Great I Am, the Almighty God came to earth and took a form as vulnerable as a baby. A baby that we are invited to hold—in our hearts if not in our actual hands. Invited to hold the child of God, not because we have earned it or we deserve it or we’re qualified to do it, but because God has gifted this child to us.

What if we decided to live like we really believe that we get to hold the Baby Jesus? As people who know that we are loved unconditionally and forgiven when we falter and gifted with life in the here-and-now as well as in the hereafter. What if we live like we really believe that? And what if we lived knowing that we are not unique and that everyone is invited to hold the Baby Jesus?

Those who can’t breathe and those who would stop others from breathing

They get to hold the Baby Jesus

Those who have no place to sleep tonight and those who live in houses with too many rooms to use

They get to hold the Baby Jesus

Those who believe racism is over and those who are reminded constantly that it is not over at all

They get to hold the Baby Jesus

Those who fight to live and those who live to fight

They get to hold the Baby Jesus

Those who are too excited about Christmas to sit still and those who are too sad to move

They get to hold the Baby Jesus

Those who risk their lives to do thankless jobs and those who overstep the boundaries of their position

They all get to hold the Baby Jesus.

For Jesus came to give comfort and hope to the oppressed, but also to offer the oppressor an alternative way of being. Jesus came for the lowly shepherds, but also for the folks who didn’t make our story tonight—the emissaries of Herod. The wisemen got to hold the baby Jesus, too and were given the opportunity to go home by another way. To travel a different path than the one they had been on.

This legislative season, may we stand with the sweaty, smelly shepherds eager to see the new baby, a little nervous about what it all might mean and arms outstretched to hold the child—even if we’re not really sure we know what we’re getting into. May we live like we believe that we all get to hold the baby. That Christ came to save us all. And if we can live like we really believe that, perhaps we can all start to believe in each other as well.

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