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“The last place on earth”

Rev Elisabeth R. Jones

Poet of Christmas, Ann Weems has this poem called “had we been there”  in which she proposes that
if it had been left up to us, 
we would not have chosen to send the world’s saviour
in the fashion that Luke tells us God “sent his son into the world.”

She’s probably right. 
Messianic hopes, long a staple of Judean faith,
imagined a warrior- prince of peace,
one upon whose shoulders ‘authority rested’
a wise counsellor,  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 this…..

Sometimes the portrayals of Christ’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 you’d expect to find divine offspring.
But that’s to overstate the case,
to turn the story into tabloid fodder,
to twist the tale to suit our own perversely romantic notions
of God’s supreme reversal,
especially as neither Luke nor Matthew told it like that in the first place.

Carpenters in Judea were not poor.
They weren’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 Israel’s best loved king.

And they weren’t homeless,
but temporarily displaced by the taxman,
forced to journey to be registered by a bureaucracy,
with no thought  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 you’d expect God
to deliver the Saviour of the World:
into the middle of ordinariness.

As I read Luke, and Matthew,
and even John’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 “One with Us”
then surely this choice must be special… holy somehow…
Surely there were a few angels….? 
Magi with gold trekking across the Arabian desert
to prove his worth…
And if not kingly, why not extremely opposite, to make the radical point?   Luke certainly heads in that direction,
and I happily follow, and  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 places….
high holy, or poor lowly, take your pick….
but the last place on earth we expect, or want,
to find God is in the ordinary places….
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 we’d look to find God is….
here.
But here, with us, is where God is.
The best place on earth for God to be.

 

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