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Healing Line

Healing Line

The Healing We Find at the Manger

by Francis MacNutt
Winter 1998

Soon you will hear Christmas sermons in which preachers worry about how commercialism and Santa Claus have crowded Jesus' birth out of this glorious season. Of course, they are right. Even without the sermons to remind us, there are so many invitations to respond to, so many cards to send, so many presents to buy, that Christmas certainly feels crowded and rushed.

But a more subtle force robs us of the real impact of Christmas. It is what we ourselves have done to Christmas. We have beautified Christmas, made it a pretty scene with Hummel–like figures of Mary and Joseph holding the newborn babe up to the adoring shepherds and peaceful animals. Angels sing, and the sky glows with stars. All of this is true.

Yet, there is something deeper in the Gospel accounts which speaks far more profoundly to our wounded humanity. What we see is an incredible account of Almighty God becoming a human being just like us. It really is unbelievable: the all–powerful God who created the sun, moon and stars, terrified the Israelites with lightning on Mt. Sinai, wiped out an Assyrian army, whom the Jews dared not approach in the Holy of Holies — this God unexpectedly appears as a tiny human babe, helpless and weak, wrapped in a diaper ("swaddling clothes"), totally dependent upon His mother Mary and His earthly father Joseph.

What we have obscured is how harsh that first Christmas truly was. Jesus not only became a human, but He joined us on the very lowest rung of existence.

He was born to a mother who was not yet married and whose future husband considered not marrying her because of what seemed to be an illegitimate birth. What did their relatives and neighbors think as she grew in size? She was probably about t 4 years old (the usual marriage age in those days), and Joseph was not much older — two teenagers, who did not have enough clout to get a room at the inn. What was it like to travel all that way just before giving birth? And what was the birth like with no midwife to help?

Finally, they found a stable, which we have so glamorized, a dirty place to keep animals, not people. After Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph put him in the in the only spot available — an animal' feeding trough (which we sanitized by calling it a manger). Then, the only people to come celebrate the feast of the first–born male, an occasion for great rejoicing in any Jewish family (compare it with the birth of John the Baptist in Luke t :5 7–8), were shepherds. To us, shepherds are quaint and romantic, but in Jesus' day they were reputed among the "godless." Like Gentiles, they were restricted to the outer court of the temple, the rejects of their day.

Today, it would be as if Jesus was born to an unwed teenage mother in a dirty garage and was placed in an empty dog food box, and several homeless people were the only ones to find out and offer congratulations to the wandering, lonely parents.

Herod was ready to kill Jesus, who soon became a refugee in Africa. Where were the religious leaders who were waiting for the Messiah? The only religious figures to arrive on the scene were three Gentiles, and not only were they outsiders but they were astrologers. We glamorize their role, as well, by using the terms 'Three Kings," or "Magi."

We have "sanitized" three words: "magi," "manger" and "swaddling clothes." The stark reality of that first Christmas is too much for us to take.

Jesus identified not only with ordinary people, but with our rejects, both societal and religious. Jesus' rejection at the inn forecast His ultimate rejection and shameful death. In fact, the only romantic part about the Gospel account was the appearance of the joyful choir of angels — heaven's response. But the human response was small indeed.

All this says much about Jesus, who came to heal us. He bent down and became one of us — and not only one of us, but one of the LEAST of us.

No matter how shameful our sin, how debilitating our sickness, or how much we have been rejected, Jesus is approachable. He understands, because He has been through it all. By His wounds, we are healed. Jesus was a "thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering" (Isaiah 53:2b). Long before His crucifixion, His identification with our wounded human condition was evident in that first Christmas.

"It is not as if we had a high priest who was incapable of feeling our weaknesses with us; but we have one who has been tempted in every way that we are, though He is without sin" (Hebrews 4: t 5). And that? Good News.

Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Winter 1998 Issue