“The last place on earth”
Rev Elisabeth R. Jones
Poet of Christmas, Ann Weems has this poem called â€œhad we been thereâ€Â in which she proposes that
if it had been left up to us,Â
we would not have chosen to send the worldâ€™s saviour
in the fashion that Luke tells us God â€œsent his son into the world.â€
Sheâ€™s probably right.Â
Messianic hopes, long a staple of Judean faith,
imagined a warrior- prince of peace,
one upon whose shoulders â€˜authority restedâ€™
a wise counsellor,Â or the military general of an avenging army
who would remove Rome from the holy of holies,
cut through the armies like scythe harvesting hay.
But nothing prepared the hopeful and the faithful,
the devout and religious for thisâ€¦..
Sometimes the portrayals of Christâ€™s birth
go to the other extreme;
dressed down into abject poverty,
a carpenter and a teenage mother,
homeless, giving birth in a barn,
the last place on earth youâ€™d expect to find divine offspring.
But thatâ€™s to overstate the case,
to turn the story into tabloid fodder,
to twist the tale to suit our own perversely romantic notions
of Godâ€™s supreme reversal,
especially as neither Luke nor Matthew told it like that in the first place.
Carpenters in Judea were not poor.
They werenâ€™t rich either,
but a skilled tradesman was more than a single cut above most of the Judean peasant population who were landless day labourers.
Joseph was not even a nobody.
He was descended from Israelâ€™s best loved king.
And they werenâ€™t homeless,
but temporarily displaced by the taxman,
forced to journey to be registered by a bureaucracy,
with no thoughtÂ or concern for maternal due dates,
but they had a home, an income worth taxing, a future.
In fact, Mary and Joseph were pretty ordinary,
part of a temporarily migrant majority, rather than the
desperate minority at one end of the spectrum,
or the miniscule pocket of Judean elite at the other.
Which when you come to think of it,
is the last place on earth youâ€™d expect God
to deliver the Saviour of the World:
into the middle of ordinariness.
As I read Luke, and Matthew,
and even Johnâ€™s high lofty philosophical poetry
of Eternal Word becoming Light in a darkened place,
I see in them tendencies I share:
If God chooses to become â€œOne with Usâ€
then surely this choice must be specialâ€¦ holy somehowâ€¦
Surely there were a few angelsâ€¦.?Â
Magi with gold trekking across the Arabian desert
to prove his worthâ€¦
And if not kingly, why not extremely opposite, to make the radical point?Â Â Luke certainly heads in that direction,
and I happily follow, andÂ leave Luke behind
in my rush to imagine the spectacularly different.
We continue to embellish the story,
but usually in a sepia and tinsel sort of way,
much like we decorate a plain pine tree with lights and baubles,
We are content to find God in strange places
holy places, liminal places, special places,
ends of the earth placesâ€¦.
high holy, or poor lowly, take your pickâ€¦.
but the last place on earth we expect, or want,
to find God is in the ordinary placesâ€¦.
the ordinariness of human childbirth
the ordinariness of a family,
the ordinariness of people living within the economic system
of the day,
the ordinariness of the anonymous middle of things.
The last place on earth weâ€™d look to find God isâ€¦.
But here, with us, is where God is.
The best place on earth for God to be.