Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas Week: Nativity

Previously: Bubbles, Book, Playplace

Some changes are made with pre-planned purpose, and some...are not. The latter are made because someone doesn't know any better, or because it just makes sense to do it, or because one did things a certain way in a previous time and place and just assumed that it's done the same way where they are now.

My very first December at my current church, I arrived to help decorate the building for the upcoming seasons. I had no idea where anything was meant to go; no memory of what everything usually looks like. But it made sense for me to show up and do what I could.

We have several nativity sets that go up around the church. One is a fun mismatched set that looks like it was cobbled together from three or more sets.

The box containing these figures was placed in the sanctuary, so my natural assumption was that they went on the altar. My previous church had one there, so that must be where this one went, too. So I took it upon myself to set it up.

Several. Years. Later: I went about placing the nativity set on the altar, while another donated set was being set up on a table out in our narthex. I made some comment about how nice it was to have something on that table, to which someone responded, "Oh, usually the one from the altar goes there, but you changed that."

Again, not every change is pre-planned.

We could say that the change to the lives of Mary and Joseph in the announcement of Jesus' conception came with some planning and purpose. The various angelic visitors tip us off to that. The Holy Spirit meant to do what She did, and Jesus was going to have a divine calling to fulfill during the course of his life.

But in order to get there, Mary and Joseph were going to have to do some improvising. Having to hang out in a barn, much less coordinate a birth, was not planned. Having to make room for some shepherds with their own strange angelic encounter was not planned. The various trips in and out of Egypt in Matthew were fly-by-night sorts of moments.

As much as we may focus on the divine control of it all, the purpose behind Jesus' birth and all that he was destined to do, there was a lot to make up in the heat of the moment.

Even this late in the season, I don't have everything planned. Like many pastors tasked with worship leadership this week, there are a lot of moving parts to worry about, much of which depends on the volunteers around us. We give up control to involve others, which is necessary, because the celebration to come is not just ours alone. Not even when we accidentally change something.

But into that imperfection, Christ is born again. He'll change stuff, too. He'll do it while fully immersed in human experience and fully engaged with people's lives. He'll even change a few things by accident himself.

But even accidental changes make good stories. And good stories help us discover truths and possibilities that we wouldn't have considered without them.

So it's a good thing the story we tell this week is full of accidental changes. What will we discover through them this time?

(Image source)