Published December 22, 2005
Our children were born more than 30 years ago, but they had the advantage of being born in sanitized hospitals with competent physicians clothed in Martinized smocks doing their work with disinfected hands washed with soap containing Chlorhexidine Gluconate.
Expectant fathers were not allowed anywhere near the labor rooms or delivery rooms for fear they would bring some kind of contamination into the area where the newborn child would enter the world. Christian comedian Ken Davis indicated that he was so desperate to get into the room where his wife was giving birth to their daughter that the hospital had to put out a restraining order on him. So, in an effort to keep soon-to-be fathers at some distance from the birthing place waiting rooms were designed as far away from the delivery room as possible.
After the children were born they were properly bathed and placed in a sterilized nursery. That too was off limits to both the mothers and the fathers for the most part. However, we got to go see our precious newborn children through a window from a parent’s observatory. Essentially, in those days we could see but not touch.
Times have changed and the husband is no longer considered persona non grata in the delivery room. In fact, he now gets to coach his wife in the birthing process. But in developed nations children are born in fresh, sparkling, hygienically clean medical facilities that are maintained in the most favorable of conditions.
Because of our experiences we prefer to think that all births occur in the most idyllic of circumstances. And certainly, we’d like to think that there was nothing crude or barbaric about the birth of our Savior. We picture him in a warm stable that has been decontaminated and sanitized and scotchguarded for his protection.
Even our most beloved Christmas carols picture his birth circumstances as ideal. Consider the words of perhaps the most well known carol of all:
Silent night, Holy night, all is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.
Do you think the Christ child got much sleep that night in the stench of a cold, filthy stable with sheep bleating and cows bellowing? I doubt it.
We want Christmas to be a warm sentiment with pleasant memories, a festive celebration with lavish decorations and a cozy, comfortable season marked by family conviviality.
All of that is well and good, but the first Christmas was all about a poor carpenter and a young woman who may have been disgraced by her pregnancy, both part of a oppressed race and living in an occupied country … and it’s all about a birth in a barn, an unsantized barn.
I actually think there is a hymn, which on the basis of the words of the chorus, could qualify as a Christmas carol, but it does not portray the kind of Christmas scene that we have painted for our own comfortable, casual brand of Christianity. Consider the words of “Ivory Palaces:”
His life had also its sorrows sore, for aloes had a part
And when I think of the cross He bore,
My eyes with teardrops start.
Out of the ivory palaces into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love made my Savior go.
Christmas for Jesus was a condescension whereby He left the glories of heaven, “took upon himself the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men … and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
He left the thrill of heaven for the threats of Herod. Van Horn calls Herod the “Ebenezer Scrooge without the conversion, the Grinch without a change of heart.” We Christians like to talk about putting Christ back into Christmas, but let’s not forget to put Herod back into Christmas.
Herod reminds us that Jesus came into a “world of woe” as the hymn suggests. II Corinthians 8:9 says it so well: “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye thorough his poverty might be rich.”
The incarnation is all about a Savior who came into our broken world to redeem outcasts, refugees and nobodies like you and me. In your commemoration of the incarnation don’t forget that the wood of the cradle almost touches the wood of the cross.
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