Dirt, breath and blood. Christmas is the time we remember how down to earth God will get in order to meet us in love.
“Silent night, Holy night...” we all sang at our community carols service. Which, to be honest, seems a fairly unlikely summary of that first Christmas. Certainly the silent part, at any rate.
Mary is a young mum giving birth for the first time, in a shed, without the benefit of nitrous oxide, epidurals or indeed any of what we might regard as hygienic birthing conditions. She is surrounded by animals and certain poor shepherds who are still suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after being glory-bombed by a bunch of angels while tending their flocks earlier in the evening.
The cattle are lowing, it says in the carol. Which, as a country boy, I can tell you is that quiet, ruminating kind of noise cows will make when they’re relaxed and well-fed. I can see that lasting about ten seconds, right up until the cows get spooked by Mary’s groans and cries and they start up their own raucous, panicked bellowing.
You’ve got Joseph, a befuddled father displaced by the politics of an Imperial census, holding on to his wife’s hand for dear life and calling out, “Breathe. Just breathe” as if he has a clue. And the little Lord Jesus makes his wet, squalling entrance into the world, the same way we all did. “No crying he makes?” You are joking.
That first Christmas soundtrack is a far cry from every Christmas album that’s been released ever since.
In the dark and the dirt. The air heavy with the stink of animals and the bitter tang of blood. Cries of pain and laboured breathing, the bellowing of panicked animals and the first desperate cries of a newborn.
God the Son enters the world, meeting humanity, in vulnerability and weakness. Drawing close and giving himself to the world he loves to death and beyond.
And in the mess and breath and blood of my life and my world, he still draws close.
In the world of mothers fearfully preparing for a first birth, not knowing if their child will make it past the first few minutes, let alone past the first few years, he still draws close.
In the world of farmers and shepherds, struggling in the face of hardship and hunger, he still draws close.
In the world of the displaced and dispossessed, of refugees and asylum-seekers, he still draws close.
And, in a sly subversive move, at the moment he gives himself to us, the free gift of God's abundant grace to save us from ourselves, he also saves us, shapes us, renews us, empowers us to be a gift for others.
To receive him and, in him, give ourselves. To be born again in his love in order to love in a world of displaced families, vulnerable mothers and impoverished farmers.
Ben Thurley is the National Coordinator of Micah Australia.