Nesting, I’m sure. Clearing a space for their newborn between the animals and the filthy hay.
Getting the manger just so. Top quality straw from Mothercare. Harrod’s finest flock.
Or perhaps they were still on the road, looking forward to a nice warm inn and a cup of tea. ‘Not long now, sweetheart – hang in there. Nice Travel lodge, just around the corner, I can feel it…’
The truth is, they didn’t follow a traditional birth plan.
No hospital labour, doctors and epidural. No home birth: warm bath and candles.
A stinking cave in place of white linen, a donkey instead of central heating and a raft of visitors they’d never even met. Sure, some of them brought gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh… but that last one – embalming fluid – was a little disconcerting.
“Joseph, get the patio set love, some more have come. Kings, have you met the shepherds? No, of course not. Well, I’ll let you get acquainted. I’d fetch some water, except -well, I’ve Just Given Birth. Give me a moment….”
And about that birth. What did it look like? Quick painless labour, school nativity-style? Or 30+ hours of contractions, no midwife and no pain relief?
Beatific, gurgling newborn – talcum-fresh and contented? Or red-faced, howling infant – bawling and bloody?
And, as if that wasn’t earthy enough, hours later, a genocide. Death to every baby in the region, with Best Wishes from King Herod.
Is this the nativity we imagine? Perhaps not. But it’s the Christmas we need.
We need it,
– if we were queuing in a certain cafe in Sydney, just a week ago. The same cafe a gunman burst into, spilling coffee and spilling blood.
– if we were shopping in a particular Glasgow high street. The same street where a lorry ploughed into pedestrians.
– if we were watching a school first-aid demonstration, with classmates in Peshawar. The same school that was targeted by Taliban terrorists. And where 145 died.
How can anyone speak of Christmas after these tragedies?
It all depends which Christmas we have in mind. The sanitised greeting card, with scrubbed stable and smiling baby? Or the filthy, bloody, stinking reality, of childbirth amidst cattle and genocide?
Jesus began and ended His life – bleeding, screaming and naked, stretched out on rough wood, gawped at and exposed. As John 1 reminds us, the first Christmas was a fleshy affair – and a carnal God is shocking enough. But Hebrews 2 goes further. Christmas is about flesh and blood. (Hebrews 2:14-15) Not just a fleshy LORD, a bloody LORD. An infant God, on His way to execution. A child of embalming fluid, not baby oil.
Real Christmas is not about warm blankets and soft lighting. The Light that entered our land of deep shadow cried, bled and ultimately died. This is how He shines – from the depth of our darkest valley.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Not the Christmas we expect. But the Christmas we need.