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3 Connection
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 And the Word Became Flesh
By the Rev. Ian Ross-McDonald, General Secretary,
Life and Mission Agency
Tradition holds that Jesus was a car- penter. A more logical invention might have been to imagine that Jesus was a farmer. Consider the evidence: Mary once mistook Jesus for a gar- dener. When Jesus preached, he told more stories about plowing fields, planting seeds and fertilizing or prun- ing trees than he did about building anything out of them. And according to one gospel, Jesus started life in or near a barn.
This all became more real to me early one morning recently while I mucked out cow stalls and gagged on the foul barn smells. Even the very best-kept animal barn is sullied, smeared and stained. Anyone who spends any time in or near one soon smells of a barn and likely sports tangible evidence of all that hap- pens in one. But it was in these foul circumstances that the Word Made Flesh was born and where he was first fed at his mother’s breast and laid to sleep in a food trough.
The gulf between the images on some Christmas cards and the re- alistic circumstances of Christ’s birth is wide. Equally gaping is the
chasm between God’s interests and inclinations expressed in the Bible and many of our own. We prefer the spectacular and grand while God opts for the subtle and small. We tend to want things to be simplistic and smooth, while biblical faith pre- sents a complex view of human life with all its thorny issues and in all its roughness. Our preference is for an otherworldly faith, but the faith presented in the Bible is unapologeti- cally fleshy and earthy. Try reading the New Testament sometime with a coloured pencil in hand and underline how often bodies, body parts, bodily functions and flesh are mentioned. Likewise, underline in another colour all the echoes of the Hebrew Bible’s emphasis on the goodness of creation in all its wonder and woundedness. It becomes very clear that Christian faith isnotawayoutoftheworld,buta committed engagement in the reality of it. Christian faith isn’t a rejection of the world but is a hopeful witness to what we know the world can be when the light shining from the stable illumi- nates all creation.
In the gospel of Luke, the shep- herds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” And every year we go again with them to see what has
happened. In the little child we find in the barn, God has slipped into the world through the back door of a Bethlehem that is stripped of the glory and holiness we associate with God and want for ourselves. In the stable, God frees us from the distrac- tions of spectacle so that we can see plainly that it is God’s true nature to lovingly pour everything from God- self into the Word made Flesh and, in so doing, reconciles and gives new life to all of creation.
Returning to the barn each year, we are reminded of the nature of the one whose ministry we seek to continue. In the stable, we recognize the flawed message of those who preach that we need to escape the world when God desperately wants to break into it. A trip to the barn each Christmas is an opportunity for the church and its communities to reassess the scope and focus of its priorities for ministry. It is a chance for the church to hone in on what God is doing in the world and to adjust its course to ensure that we are following the one who called us to follow him.
Using good barnyard language, someone said to me recently, “2020 has been a really $#!?+% year—no offence, Reverend.” (It’s worth think- ing about why people feel compelled
to apologize to clergy for speaking the truth plainly.) It’s true, 2020 has been a terrifying year in many ways, and there are some things that will be changed forever. Since we made the trip to the barn in Bethlehem last Christmas, we have been diminished in innumerable ways, and some are left feeling frail and vulnerable.
The Word became flesh and was made as vulnerable and frail as each of us, and he lived and died in a very fetid, imperfect and flawed world. There are lessons in this: hope can be found in the most unlikely and dismissed circumstances, there is no perfect time or place for some- thing new and transformative to be- gin, humble flesh can be a bearer of God’s perfect love, and there is light and life in this world—and the seeds of its new creation were sewn at Christmas.
In the Fall 2020 issue, the article, “Young People with a World View,” on page 35 was written by Chris Mac- Donald, Clerk of Session, as well as Ann Marie Munro, at First Presbyterian Church in Pictou, N.S.
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