I have a beautiful nativity scene on my buffet in the dining room. It is made from trees native to Taiwan and hand carved by a family of 7 brothers who we’ve befriended over the years. It’s really beautiful with a tiny baby that can be placed in the manger on Christmas Eve and a baby sheep that we like to place right next to Mary as she kneels. With the a-line roof of a stable and a small carved feeding box behind Joseph, it is without a doubt supposed to be a barn. But after listening to the sermon at church on Sunday, I will never look at it the same again. I have read Luke 2 in many translations and heard countless Christmas stories, but this year it seems I have heard part of this story for the first time.
On Sunday our speaker pulled apart much of the Christmas story-separating biblical fact from our cultural misunderstandings. Because it is very unlikely that Jesus was born in any kind of barn at all. Perhaps you are reading this and you have paid closer attention than I have and are saying “yes, of course.” Perhaps you already know that the word for “inn” in Luke 2 is the Greek “kataluma” meaning “guest room.” And perhaps you have been astute enough to surmise that Joseph was heading back home and his relatives never would have sent him to a barn, stable, or a cave.
But on Sunday it hit me with fresh force that Jesus was born in a living room. No it didn’t look my living room pictured above. There was no tree or ambient lighting or Lego train running on a track. The living room of Joseph’s family home perhaps resembled the living room of the Little House on the Prairie era. One big room-a fire for cooking, wooden stools for sitting, and place in the corner for the farm tools, a manger, and animals when they were brought in from the cold.
This is where Jesus was born. In the middle of a bustling family activity center. Since the “kataluma” was most likely full with other relatives who had returned for the census, Mary had her baby in the epicenter of family life. This is important to me for two reasons. First, it is more biblically accurate than the beautiful wooden nativity I have on my buffet. But second, it means Jesus wasn’t born detached from the goings on of everyday life. He was born with aunts, uncles, and cousins roaming around. He wasn’t born outside of Bethlehem with just the 3 of them and the animals present. He was born in the midst of a busy family life-with meals to prep, animals to feed, and floors to sweep. So when I’m not so good at celebrating Advent with my kids? Jesus totally understands that. When our December preparation only includes a Lego Advent calendar and I only remember to read the Advent verses to them a few times in the month? Jesus understands that too.
Imagining Jesus coming to earth in the middle of the everyday-ness of human life encourages me that this is where his emmanuel-ness needs to be most evident. It’s where he wants me to experience his “with me-ness” the most. So once again I’ve set my high expectations for Advent on the shelf. Instead I’m focusing on asking Jesus to show me more ways to experience him in the living room of my life-as I have meals to prep, an animal to feed and floors to sweep. I want to experience him in my life the way he came into his world-in the living room.
And if you are really good at celebrating Advent with your family-Jesus understands and loves that too! Maybe next year you can send me your tips in November.