The edges feel frayed this morning as I sit with my coffee, the Christmas tree lights sparkling in the dark. The sky is just barely starting to show the pink streaks that tell me the sun will soon appear, but for now the darkness suits my mood. My coffee is in a cup that is at least eighteen years old, a gift from my friend. “Merry. Noel. Love. Peace. Joy.” mingle with holly sprigs across the sides and the interior is red. I save this cup and its matching one on a special shelf and take them down on December 1st each year. As I hold the cup, warm, in my hands I feel the tears welling. I pray for my friend and her sweet family. This year has brought their marriage to the brink, and currently divorce papers sit on her table; the shattering of hopes and dreams, love disappointed.
The fraying leaves me aware of all that feels fragile. Last year during the pandemic our church helped to feed hundreds of displaced and homeless families. Food was stored on pine pallets, and our friend took the discarded ones and made the nativity scene that sits nearby. Rough and raw, it invites my thoughts about manger theology this morning. My friend Christy Bauman introduced me to this concept, and she first heard it from Nikki Giovanni, it is the study of God through Jesus birth.
God coming through the womb of a young girl, in the form of an infant, feels so fragile to me.
I seriously doubt that the scene in that stable was everything Mary had dreamed of for the birth of her first baby. I can’t imagine that Joseph had ever delivered a baby, and there was no wise doula in the room coaching her and catching her first born. Everything I know about birth leads me to believe that Mary labored long and hard, and likely tore as her son made his way through her vagina and into the world. After he arrived, there were no older wiser ones to care for her swollen, bruised, torn body, no such luxury for Mary. She and her husband had to figure this out on their own. I wonder about those conversations between them. The trust she extended to Joseph on that night as she labored and delivered Jesus mirrors the trust, he extended to her when she told him she was carrying the son of God. Who are these two people, young, full of hope, believing the wildest things about the God they worship?
And this was God’s plan, the fragility of a young Jewish girl birthing the Savior of the world in a cold cave, surrounded by animals. The scene feels like it is lacking dignity as I conjure it up in my mind; it feels as raw and rough as the unfinished wood of my nativity scene. Joy to the world, on earth peace and goodwill towards men…colliding with the scene in that stable. The young women bruised and swollen trying to figure out how to breastfeed her first born who just happens to be the son of God. It is so unbelievable you might say it borders on madness. I need this scene. It is a landscape that can hold my frayed and ragged edges, and my raw emotions.
There is room for what feels swollen and unattended to, right alongside what is filled with life and joy.
This feels real to me. This is good news. I imagine many of you are like me, holding more than just joy as we welcome Christmas Eve. It is alright, dear ones. We have a God who welcomes our humanity, our fragility, our swollen and tender hearts. He is not interested in well put together, neat, and tidy spaces; he prefers to bring life amid what others deem shameful and undignified.
So, bring your actual selves, light your Christmas candle, and know that you are welcomed by Him, and that you belong to global sisterhood of women holding this space together with you. Merry Christmas.
Tracy Johnson is a lover of stories, a reluctant dreamer, and the Founder of Red Tent Living. Married for over 34 years, she is mother to five kids and a pastor’s wife. She loves quiet mornings with hot coffee, rich conversations, and slowly savored meals at her favorite restaurants. She is awed that God chose her to mother four girls having grown up with no sisters. She writes about her life and her work here.