I like to think of Jesus, full-grown, striding down the road. A man with a mission, self-possessed and self-directed. A man who, by his astonishing strength and wisdom, draws the searchers, the outcasts, the weak and vulnerable to himself.
This is a Jesus worth following.
Perhaps it’s the American in me. The ethos and values I inherited from my family, my church, and my community. Grow up. Take possession of your own life. Decide. Pursue. Accomplish.
I smile at myself. “Never let ‘um see you sweat.”
But it’s Christmas, and I’ve already set up the nativity scene in plaster, wood, and hay. A display that welcomes visitors to our guest house. Infant Jesus, wrapped in a cotton blanket and placed in the middle of adoring parents, shepherds, and kings. There, in perfect symbology, my Jesus statue raised a tiny hand.
But Kate’s words challenge me to see a different Jesus.
“The God of the universe entered the world as a tiny, helpless newborn, dependent on a young woman for his sustenance and a man for his protection.” – Dangerous places, page 60.
Enveloped by sparkling Christmas lights, I look out my window into a shadowed garden. I imagine a newborn infant wailing against the shock of a cold and dark night. Helpless, a strangers raises him into the air. A young mother reaches for her new born son. She wraps him in cloth, cradles him in her arms. And then, when other strangers come, she holds him forth with a courage she didn’t know she possessed.
Two people now; an infant, too small to utter words or gesture heavenward; a young woman, exhausted from travel, labor, and birth. All my ethos and values, turned upside down. Be small. Entrust yourself to others. Share him with the world.
I want to cling to the silent nativity I displayed in the entrance hall, but the story won’t stay quiet. A real baby cries with hunger, fills his diapers, and finds his peace in his mother’s arms.
And we, adoring aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, expect nothing and delight in everything. We ooh and ahh, and kiss his cheeks. We smell the sweet scent of new birth on the crown of his head.
Every infant is born to be adored. Every child is a gift to the world. Still, every one of us carries weakness and vulnerability, no matter how adept we become at taking control, striding down the road, self-possessed and self-directed.
I am uncomfortable with such vulnerability. I’ve spent my life becoming capable, proving my worth, claiming control. Even this guesthouse is a testimony to my value. Every corner carefully arranged to welcome and honor and serve the weary over-seas journey-ers who come here for respite and restoration.
Today, I was both charmed and aghast when the little American girl with her blonde pig tails, leapt into my carefully created Christmas crèche and swept the plaster Jesus into her tiny arms. She tripped across the tile, showing him off to everyone in the guesthouse. “Look! It’s Jesus. Merry Christmas.”
I cringed, expecting any moment to hear the shatter of plaster on stone. But now, she’s sleeping safely with a cotton wrapped Jesus in her arms and I realize, she’s perfect.
This is exactly who we are. Small. Vulnerable. Sometimes frightened. Often too unaware to assess the dangers around us. We carry baby Jesus into the world and say, “Look. Isn’t he beautiful?”
I let Kate’s book fall on my lap and gaze out into the darkness. The vulnerable carry the vulnerable. My guests, lambs, every one of them; the American family, two German women, an English couple…all small and fragile in the often hostile countries in which they live. Each carries Jesus, like an infant in their arms. “Isn’t he beautiful?” And I’m struck by the beauty of both Jesus and all those who enter and leave my little guesthouse on the edge of the Mediterranean.
The little American girl in her excitement and joy – a perfect image of who we all are.
we carry him into the world
In two days, her parents, Caleb and Jenna will take her back to a world without Christmas decorations and holiday sales. They’ll hang streamers in their sitting room, bake cookies and brew fierce local coffee. They’ll invite their neighbors to a celebration half Western, half Eastern. There, they’ll tell the Christmas story, over and over, to visiting friends and coworkers.
In every telling, they’ll lift the infant Jesus in their hands and say, “Look. Isn’t he beautiful?”
I’m often awed by the lives of my guests. Each has left the relative comfort and safety of their passport country to live as strangers in a strange land. They tell me the stories of their adjustments, their comic failures and unexpected learnings.
Melissa, the brown eyed nurse from Texas who mistakenly asked a man if he was going to wear clothes on the following day. Michael, the American husband and father from Pennsylvania who complemented a man’s wife’s cooking by saying, “your wife is very tasty.” Danette, from Ireland who stumbled headlong into a water filled covert right in front of a group of laughing young men.
where we, too
They come to my guesthouse, sit at my table, and laugh at their own humanity. And I am both aware of their confrontation with inadequacy and astonished by their courage.
Even Jenna, in her own way, scooped up the plaster Jesus and tripped across the tile.
Just six months on the field, she’s reeling from the shocking degradation of linguistic incompetence and gender prejudice.
I listened to their story over dinner. Egalitarian, down to the minute. They met in med school, both studying to be physicians. They found synergy in their shared desire to offer their medical skills in a land where doctors are few and far between. They studied together, accepted residencies in nearby hospitals, and when the time came, chose co-parenting along with co-doctoring. Theirs is a partnership of equals.
But the field does not support their decision.
Jenna discovered her worth was defined by her husband and the presence of her child. Even that was inadequate. After all, she had only a girl, one girl.
“We have an English nurse, a man at our field hospital. I was trying to tell a patient’s father what we needed to do for his son, but he kept looking at the nurse. When I finished talking, he asked the nurse if I was right.”
The dismay in her eyes was obvious.
“I graduated high school, Valedictorian. Summa cum laude undergrad. Got into my first choice for medical school and then graduated with honors. And now, the only thing anyone wants to know is, ‘where’s my son?’”
I cringed and thought about my own sister, a woman and a scientist. A professional by every measure. Accomplished in her field. I’ve watched her self-confidence grow with every success. Wipe it all away? Tell her it’s all worthless? I could easily imagine her fury. The same fury I could see in Jenna’s face.
But Jenna understood. “This is the price we pay.”
I heard the ‘we’ but couldn’t imagine how any of it affected Caleb.
He explained. “It’s not just that they look down on Jenna. They look down on me because I let her work.”
They both smiled wryly at the joke. “We’re not that kind of couple.”
Clearly, they understood the stone-tiled floors of their own environment.
While they talked, their little girl sat on a booster seat slopping asparagus in orange sauce all over baby Jesus and my diningroom table. Both child and statue were safely tied into the chair, but the cotton blanket was beyond filthy.
I smiled. This is who we are, messy, joyful, sharing with Jesus everything we experience.
And that’s what’s keeping Caleb and Jenna on the field. Jesus, freshly born. Small and weak and vulnerable. Jesus who grew up and said, “this is who I am, too.”
and ask, “Isn’t he beautiful?”
So they talked about their mistakes, their foolish embarrassments, the myriad of denigration’s they’d experienced, and they talked about the lives they saved. That man’s boy who would have died if not for Dr. Jenna’s intervention. Another man whose injured and infected foot Dr. Jenna carefully cleaned and treated. That man left their hospital on both his feet.
They talked about the people they’d prayed for and the stories they told. They talked about the ones they lost along the way. And I knew, in their own way, they had crashed into the crèche, lifted baby Jesus into their own arms, and carried him across the stone-tiled floors of a hostile and suffering world.
I sat in my private quarters in my guesthouse on Malta and recognized myself and everyone else in the tiny baby born in a Bethlehem manger. Jesus. Beautiful. And so are we.
Please tell me when you post a new story
I like eMail
I prefer text messages