I don’t miss my 9 p.m. bedtime. It’s a rule. No exceptions. But when Andrew Peterson brought his “Behold the Lamb of God” tour to my church, I broke my self-imposed law. And believe me, it was worth the lack of snooze-time in my cozy bed.
For those of you who haven’t caught one of the tour stops, this is one very cool Christmas concert. Peterson joins with various Christian recording artists to present the full story of Christ’s birth. I’m talking the entire Old Testament: Passover, prophets, prayers of the Jews begging God for deliverance. Peterson even plays a song with all of Matthew’s “begats.” (It’s far more entertaining than simply reading it, by the way.) And I’m talking the full story surrounding Christ’s birth: unvarnished, realistic, powerful.
One of the my favorite songs is “Labor of Love,” describing what the birth of Christ was like: it wasn’t pretty like a nativity set. It was probably cold…dirty…messy…painful.
I don’t do a lot of Christmas decorating. We don’t have enough room for a tree (and my two-year-old might pull the ornaments and so long Tannenbaum), and we still don’t have lights up outside our house (in spite of my six-year-old’s reminders). We do have are several nativity sets: one on the mantel, one on a bookcase, one in the china cabinet beside my crystal goblets and wedding china.
When I heard Jill Phillips sing “Labor of Love,” what hit me is how unrealistic my nativity sets are. Surely Mary wasn’t kneeling by the manger so soon after a painful childbirth…ouch. The manger hay was probably more dirty than clean, more scratchy than soft. The sheep didn’t smell so great (and the shepherds probably didn’t, either). The wise men were miles away. And that structure pretending to be a stable—what architect designs a stable looking like that?
Unsanitary. Lonely. Painful. A “no vacancy” sign on the inn door. The Son of God—homeless.
My local rescue mission has between 20-30 children who call this place “home.” They and their mamas would be living in cars, under bridges, huddled in cardboard boxes, if the folks at the Downtown Rescue Mission didn’t give them a temporary home. I can’t fathom their hungry stomachs and cold bodies and desperation. When I look into their faces, I don’t see a resemblance to the homeless Christ child.
But Jesus does. He knows what the homeless feel because he was homeless himself. Later on in the Gospels, he would say he had no place to lay his head. When he took on flesh, he knew what he would experience and yet came anyway. A labor of love.
I lay my head on a soft pillow to sleep, snuggle under cozy blankets, then hit the alarm clock and grumble that 6 a.m. should come later in the day. But I need to remember those who aren’t so fortunate. I need to remember those who experience what Jesus and his earthly parents experienced in Bethlehem. I need to look into their eyes, remember the Son of Man who had no place to lay his head, and remember his labor of love on their behalf—and mine.