Last night we had our annual Christmas pageant at church. There’s something so special and sweet about seeing a bunch of ragtag kids put on oversized shepherds’ robes and fake beards and take to the stage, shining a little light once again on that tiny stable in Bethlehem.
So many kids turned up to be part of it that we legitimately ran out of costumes. We hastily took the newbies to a Sunday school room and dug through boxes of odd, mismatched costume pieces from all kinds of kids’ productions of the past. By the time we got to the last little blonde haired, blue-eyed beauty, standing there all expectant, wondering which vital role of the Christmas story that she would play, we were down to an unidentified animal of some sort, brown in color, with a tail and feathered trim, pink-lined ears flopping adorably over the front of her hat. We didn’t know what it was. She didn’t know what it was. But, she was happy. And, the show went on.
I’m pretty sure we may have had a kangaroo at the manger.
And, in some small way it seems appropriate. There are times when I feel about as out of place in the Christmas story as a kangaroo. What business do I have there, on that silent night, peeking over sweet young Mary’s shoulder, gazing on the King of Kings? When I consider how spiritually poor that I really am, how my wretched attitudes and thoughts wreck that beautiful scene, how I am in no way worthy of even standing nearby when God takes to the Earth, tiny baby so tenderly laid there in the rough-hewn trough where animals eat–when I really think about it, I just want to hide away in shame so as not to spoil the moment with my ever heavy humanity.
But, then I remember that here in this place, in this little barn somewhere in the middle of a sleepy city, that God invited a teenaged mother. He invited a simple carpenter. He invited shepherds who spent every night and day with their smelly sheep. That’s not to say that those invited were as wicked as I am. But, one thing is for certain: every single one of them was a sinner, unworthy to even glance at that holy baby in the manger. Yet, there they were. Summoned by a choir of angels. Resting under the bright light of a special star. Gazing into the face of God.
You see, we are not the ones who are out of place. This is the world that we inhabit. This is the realm of sin and suffering and that never-ending wrestling with our bent toward sin. This is where we learn how to depend on Him, where we pray for assurance of His presence. I guess that is the real miracle of the manger. Not that we are there, but that Jesus is. Jesus, in his complete perfection, in His all-powerful everything-ness. Lying there on prickly hay, needing a young mother’s care.
God with us.
He didn’t have to come to this place. He didn’t have to invite us to come near. He didn’t have to tether Himself to a weak human body or strong human urges. But, He did. And, He did it all perfectly.
After the pageant last night, we folded costumes to packed them away for next year, and our little kangaroo happily skipped away to get cookies and punch. I’m not sure that we’ll ever again see a kangaroo at the manger. But, when I remember this night and that oddly sweet unidentified animal that sat up on her knees to try to get a better look at baby Jesus, I hope I remember how miraculously out of place God was in that manger. And, I pray that I never stop praising Him for it.