Gari Melchers painting “The Nativity” is my favorite nativity scene. The realism of the moment is almost heartbreaking. Mary slumps against the wall, exhausted from childbirth. Joseph sits and stares, wondering what the future will bring. The newborn Jesus sleeps peacefully in the manger. To me, the painting is a moving depiction of a very human moment, a moment about which we know nothing.
For all the build-up, the actual moment of Jesus’ birth is a secret kept from us. We know all about what came before, and what comes after, but the moment that the Incarnate God first draws an independent breath is a mystery. In the words of Phillips Brooks, “How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is giv’n!” (O Little Town of Bethlehem, ELW 279). God slipped into the world while everyone’s attention was focused elsewhere. Something new and wonderful showed up when no one was looking. Sometimes that’s how the Spirit works with us, too. We take a quiet moment, and ponder, and find that something new and wonderful is in our hearts, revealing itself only after it has arrived and found a home. As Brooks continues, “So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heav’n.” The blessings of God’s heaven came to us as a baby boy 2000 years ago, and they come to us today as a call to welcome that child into our lives. Much like Joseph, when we welcome that child we might have no idea what will come next, but we do know that God Is With Us, always.
“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
Phillips Brooks, O Little Town of Bethlehem
Rev. Shawn Brooks
Christ Lutheran Church, rural Le Mars
St. Peter Lutheran Church, Brunsville