Summary: Christmas Day 1988: Jesus came into a world full of fears about economics, government, health, and the rest. Our pretty porcelain manger scenes are not realistic. But when Jesus comes today and works through us, He works to drive away all the fears that
A certain family, a number of years ago, as was their custom, lovingly and carefully set out their beautiful porcelain nativity scene for Christmas. They were so very proud of this delicate, fragile thing of beauty; they had paid a good deal of money for it on a trip to Europe, and its value could not be measured only in money. Its value was measured in its beauty and in the sentiment they had by now attached to it. The features on the Virgin were quiet, demure, with a blush of pink on each cheek. Joseph was made with eyes lifted up to heaven, as if he were still in shock and awe over all that had taken place. Each of the tiny porcelain animals had a charm too, and you could hardly imagine these lovely things fouling a stable or chomping noisily on fodder. It was all very lovely, very fragile, and somehow very pure.
But this family loved their porcelain nativity scene and carefully brought it out each Christmas day, setting it under the tree, placing each figure in exactly the right spot, proudly placing everything in a semi-circle focused on the Christ Child. It was a ritual of adoration and devotion.
This year, however, things were a little different. Their young son, who last Christmas could barely walk, had been safely kept on the sidelines and away from this carefully constructed scene. But if he could barely walk last year, you know that by this year he had found his feet and was able to get around and do just about anything he wanted to do. And not only had he found his feet, but also he had found a stubborn will in there somewhere. Not only could he do just about anything he wanted, he did it. Or tried mighty hard at least.
And so this year when the manger scene was all in place, mother and dad turned to enjoy it with their child, who took one look, dashed into his room, and came out with a battered, ugly, livid green, purely revolting plastic dinosaur. And plunk … right there amidst baby Jesus and contemplative Mary and eyes-uplifted Joseph, one grinning dinosaur. Mom gave a little shriek and plucked it right out: no, no, this doesn't belong in here. This doesn't go here. No dinosaurs at the birth of Jesus.
A little later, Dad went back in the room to admire, once more, the manger scene and its pristine porcelain loveliness, and there it was again: wise man bringing gold, wise man bearing frankincense, wise man carrying myrrh, and all of them peering out from behind oversized, horribly toothy, monstrous gasoline-company-sponsored dinosaur. And so this time Dad rescues the situation and takes out the monster, and giving it back to his little boy, launches into a lengthy explanation: no, son, the dinosaurs were all gone by that time. And anyway they wouldn't have kept one of these in the stable. And besides, it doesn't look right. Now, run along, play, son, but keep this monster out of there.
That night, after their boy was tucked away for sleep, with visions of sugarplums dancing in his sweet little head, mom and dad once again went to the tree to drink in the sight of their perfect little nativity scene with its perfect little figures and their perfect little features. And there, well, let's just say now you can sing the Christmas carol, Ox and ass before him bow, and so does dinosaur. It was back again, in all its green glory.
But just as mom was about to take it out and consign it to the garbage can, dad had a flash of insight. Leave it … leave it. The boy is right. For Jesus, you see, came into a world of monsters, not a world of perfection. Jesus came into a world of ugliness, not of pure shimmering beauty. Jesus was born into a world where in fact there are monsters, monsters galore, monsters of war and hate and poverty and racism, demons of disease and violence and greed and sin. That's the point. That's the point precisely. When Jesus came, it was not to a world already so perfect that all he had to do was bask in its beauty ... no, when Jesus came, it was into a world full of fears and tensions, factions and failures … monsters all of them. And so do not construct in your mind this morning a picture of a calm and lovely world waiting to embrace God's gift; instead think of a world full of fears and anxieties, a people plagued with failures and sins. Think of green monsters on the horizon and you will be far more accurate and far more relevant. And you will be closer to the significance of the coming of this child.