As we transition into talking about the Christmas story, we're using last week's conversation as our touchpoint. The truth is that even we, as Christians, are losing touch with Christmas as we continue to show the world how pro-Christmas we are by adopting Santa and his elves as our own celebration, somewhere seemingly so far removed from the manger.
I have been reflecting on this in my heart, partly because I am just as prone to be tempted as anyone. No one wants to be "weird" at Christmas, and certainly, insisting that Christmas is actually about Christ has become...weird.
One of the things I'm thinking about, though, is the shepherds in the Christmas story. Remember these guys? They were out in their fields and saw the brightest star in the sky that they had ever seen. They started following it, knowing that wherever it led them, they would find the Promise waiting for them. And anyone who has ever been lost in the woods knows the tremendous goodness of one bright star; it can reorient your whole world for you.
So these guys follow this star, and they come to the manger...but do they?
That's the story that we're told, and when we see it dramatized, how could they not? The star lights the way and there comes just this bright illumination on the baby Jesus Himself and the angels sing and there's this holy aura and there is no way at all that this star could lead them anywhere but the manger.
Except when you remember that the manger was attached to the inn. It was probably in the basement. There was probably all kinds of stuff going on starlight-adjacent in this inn that was so full that there was no room even for a very-pregnant woman about to give birth...or for a newborn baby. After all, we aren't told that after He was born, someone kindly gave up their room for Him. No. That baby Jesus stayed in the manger.
And if the shepherds are anything like us, and I can only imagine that they are, I can just imagine them following that star all the way to the inn...and then knocking on the innkeeper's door to see what was going on there. Knocking on the doors to all of the rooms to see if anyone there knew anything about the Promise that had brought them this far. Becoming discouraged because no one seemed to know what was happening, why these shepherds would be led to this place. Here? Nah, no Promise here.
Just a full inn on the edge of Bethlehem on the eve of the census. Just a bunch of out-of-towners trying to come home.
Nothing to see here. Not sure what star you thought you were following, but you guys got yourselves good.
All of a sudden, the shepherds, so close to the Promise and yet so far away, are nothing more than what we most fear to be - religious nutjobs. Because they were too busy knocking at the inn to look in the manger. Because they expected Jesus to be somewhere comfortable, not somewhere dirty. Because they thought for sure that if God was sending His promise, it was going to be clean and obvious and pretty and at least able to afford a room in the inn. At least, He would have made reservations ahead of time and known for certain His place.
All of these reasons that we don't think of the manger for Christmas. All of these reasons why we're tempted to miss Jesus when He's right in front of us. All of these reasons why we're so sure we know what God is doing. We follow that star all the way to the inn because we know there is a Promise there, and then...and then, we miss it entirely because it's not what we'd expect. Because it's not what we think God should be doing. Because it's unbecoming of the Lord of All Creation to be lying in a manger.
And, well, it still seems unbecoming, doesn't it?