"I am waiting simply to hold you. Come, Lord Jesus."
So, we go to my sweet baby Gwynnie's play tonight at the Opera House. It's called The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Gwynnie played the role of Davida Slocum, and she shined as brightly as I knew she would.
The play was full of delightful little surprises and humor. It's was mainly about a hardscrabble family with six unruly kids, the Herdmans, who wrestle their way into the best parts of a church's Christmas pageant, all because they thought snacks would be served at Sunday school. There was plenty of insight into class and perception, and poverty, but it was lighthearted fare. Until the end. The end was a little devastating.
It was a kid's Christmas play, of course. I knew, somehow, those Herdmans would end up showing us all the true meaning of Christmas, but I never would have expected how powerful the climax of the show would hit me.
Imogene Herdsman, our rough and tumble Mary, who'd not only played catch with the baby Jesus doll, and did a hilarious tug-of-war with the Sunday school teacher turned pageant director over him during rehearsals, (and isn't that a great metaphor for how the "righteous" often wrench the Christ Child right out of the hands of the true poor in spirit); she had the nerve to burp him during the pageant! As if Jesus were a real baby!
Something happened to Imogene on that stage when she truly took Christ in her arms. She, so sassy and aggressive, grew quiet as it all began to hit her: he came as a baby. Whoa!
Maybe the reason she burped him is because he had become real to her, and everyone knows you have to burp real babies, or they'll get colicky. Watching her made me of the story of Simeon the just man, who'd lived right all of this life, and had waited past his weariness in his old age for the promise that he would see the Messiah, the Consolation of Israel, with his own eyes. When Jesus' parents bought him to Simeon, the just man had no idea who he was. That is until he took the Child in his arms. Only then was Christ's divine identity revealed.
In the play tonight, Imogene had a revelation embracing the baby. She took him into her arms, and the sobering reality of the incarnation hit her hard. God had come in the fragile garment of flesh, shivering and howling, comforted by his binding in swaddling clothes. He'd made himself so vulnerable that he couldn't even hold his own head up.
Last week on Facebook, I wrote about waiting for Jesus, poor and needy, thinking of Matthew 25. Immediately I was rebuked! One of my lovies said, "Jesus doesn't need us; we need him." But in the play, the Jesus I saw was just a baby, who needed, as all babies do. I watched as Imogene, only playing the mother of a plastic doll, by grace, somehow, receive Simeon's revelation. And it became my revelation, too: betcha by golly wow, he was the one that I've been waiting for forever.
Imogene cradled Jesus tenderly, as her Joseph stood beside her, his hand resting protectively on her shoulder. She drew his tiny head to the warmth of her neck, and she rocked, and touched, and looked at him with wonder, tears streaming. The angelic choir members, in their cardboard and glitter wings and bed sheets, began to talk among themselves. What was Imogene doing? "She's crying!"
Mary is crying.
I cried, too. I tried so hard to hold it in. It was a kid's play, for goodness' sake! But hot tears slid down my cheeks on their own. There's so much to be sad about. The love of many has waxed cold. People don't take care of one another. The one who has two coats, rarely gives the second to another. There's war, and hunger, and disease, and lack, and such hatred, and even hostility toward God. What in the hell is he doing here like this? This is a dangerous place, and he's just a baby, still scented with the coppery smell of human blood from his mother's womb. Jesus is cold and shocked, as his skin adjusts to the the brisk air he spoke into existence. Jesus is hungry, and crying to be fed. He is rejected, a newborn in a drafty barn that smells like animals and earth.
Baby Jesus is who I need this Advent season. Over the years, I've mostly taken the Nativity story in as a whole, but this morning, all I can see is a baby. And I'm in awe, holding him, and whispering into this tiny little ear, "What are you trying to say, coming here like this?"
But he doesn't answer. He's too little to talk to me yet. So I take him to my breast, crying as loudly as he is, feeling as vulnerable and bewildered as he does. And I hold him close to my heart. "They're going to kill you, you know." And Jesus and I weep, as all babies do.
Maybe this is all I'm supposd to know about him right now: the baby needs love and protection, and if he's in my arms, I'm the one who has to give it to him.
"Don't worry, Jesus," I say, wiping my eyes on his swaddling cloths. "I won't let anything bad happen to you. I promise." At the time I mean it. God help me; I really, really mean it.
At the time.