Recently, I began reading the book Christmas Is not Your Birthday by Mike Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, as a part of an Advent small group series hosted by Impact Church in Atlanta, Georgia. The five-chapter book explores the idea of shifting the focus of Christmas from a me-me-me experience to one that gives-gives-gives to those who are in need. I could run the list of great points Pastor Slaughter presents about the commercialization of Christmas, but this blog is about something much more important.
The “cleaning up of Christmas,” or as Mike Slaughter puts it, “sanitizing” Christmas takes a look at our insatiable need to recreate the Christmas story into something it was not. This idea of sanitizing Christmas runs the gamut of images, new and old: there’s this peaceful, purified nativity scene, equipped with a modestly dressed Mary, an ever-loving Joseph, and a manger, though full of animals, cleaned, sterilized, and fit for a king. What the book suggests, however, is that there was nothing clean or neat about the birth of Christ.
Just think: Mary and Joseph had traveled for days to get to Bethlehem from Nazareth—no bathing, probably limited rest, and by the time they reached Bethlehem, Mary may have been in full-blown labor! (Have you ever seen a woman in labor? There’s nothing cute about that!)
We all know the story: There was no room in the inn for them to stay so they end up in a stable where animals lived. Animals, y’all. The hay that would eventually cushion Jesus’ manger (the trough from which livestock ate their food!) was the bed for sheep and goats, horses and donkeys. It was probably also their makeshift bathroom, too.
There was nothing clean or pretty about Jesus’ birth.
But we’ve spent centuries cleaning up this story to make it appear better than it really was. We’ve neatly tucked away the realities of the Christmas story, dressed it up, made it look and smell better because, I mean honestly, who wants to worship a King born in the feces of barn animals? Who wants to admit that their Savior found residence in the lowest of low places—a manger—surrounded by tired, weary parents who had spent days traveling to Bethlehem with nowhere to rest once they arrived?
So we clean it up! We dress Mary in her blue and white headdress, skin a-glow, hair perfectly coiffed. Joseph, in his humble attire, looks longingly at the baby resting in the feeding trough. We strategically place each lowly lamb and honorable horse at the feet of a pristine, babbling Messiah, pushing away the idea that someone who came to save the world in so much power and grandeur could be born in such a despicable and dishonorable way.
And let us not forget the white-washing of the Christmas story; recent news circulating about FOX News commentator Megyn Kelly declaring that Jesus was a white man drudges up the age-old process of blotting out the color (read: melanin-infused color) of the Jesus story. Not only have we had difficulty accepting Jesus as one who was born in the recesses of society, we’ve had a problem accepting Jesus, His parents, and the entire community from which he was born and lived as a people of color.