And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. - Micah 5
As we approach the stable where God re-defines what we know - or think we know - about power, wealth, success, and achievement, the words of the story itself take over. We remember the astonishing power of those words the first time we heard them; or if we've never heard them before, they fill us with "sighs too deep for words" as the images of the Nativity take form.
This past week, as we worked in the kitchen at church to get ready for our monthly free community supper, a young girl who lives next door showed up to help. She's become a regular during these preparations, and she is a delightful assistant. We chat about this and that as she arranges the butter dishes, salt shakers, and coffee cups. We've become good friends.
After she ate supper, she rushed up to me and said, "I finished ALL my food!" "Well," I said, "have you had some pumpkin pie?" "Not yet," she answered. "Well then," I said, "you haven't finished ALL your food."
She looked at me, puzzled. "Dessert isn't food," she insisted. "Oh, I think I disagree," I answered. We had a friendly argument about this point for a moment; then I suggested we take the matter to a group of three wise adults sitting nearby, so that they could decide the question for us. We laid out the issue at hand to them with good humor and great detail. One woman sided with me; "Of course dessert is food." The wise man on the other side of the table, however, agreed with my young friend. "Oh, absolutely, dessert is NOT food."
The third arbiter, an older woman who is struggling as her memory slips away, let the silence sit for a minute, and then said, slowly, "Well, I think all we know from this is that there are many ways of seeing the same thing."
What do we see when we look into this stable? Do we see gentleness, innocence, frailty, and the memory of our own innocence? Do we hear the sweet bliss of a song or taste something perfectly sweet on our tongue? Or do we see a new kind of power - the awesome strength that comes to visit and stays with Creation in the words this child will teach as he grows in grace and in God's love?
Maybe we see one thing more clearly than the other. And maybe, in the fullness of time, we see both. In Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols", the chorus sings:
"This little babe, so few days old, has come to rifle Satan's fold
All Hell doth at his presence quake, though He Himself from cold doth shake...
If thou wouldst foil thy foes with joy, then flit no from this Heavenly Boy."
I know what my young friend means; the meal and the dessert aren't the same. The sweet baby Jesus isn't quite the same as the teacher who will "foil [our] foes with joy." But I hope I can help teach my new friend that she will be fed by both sweetness and power and that, finally, the two are remarkably alike.
Come peek into the stable with us tomorrow, Sunday - Christmas Sunday - as we offer a journey to the stable. Our annual Christmas Pageant takes stage, with the stated goal from it organizers that there will be more people telling the story than listening to it. It might make you laugh; it might make you cry. It might have a sweet taste; it might call to mind the sometimes bitter taste of a life of faith and gentleness.
And when the pageant is over, we'll all go downstairs and have cake for Jesus' birthday. That will either be dessert, or the second part of the main course. Both will be delicious. especially if you're with us - one of us.