That Jesus was born as an ordinary, poor, middle eastern child, is extraordinary – in a stable, that is extremely ordinary. I mean, you might think a pregnant woman should be considering her health and the life of the child and therefore a decent bed, warm, potential for getting food and water, a nice Inn room yet this extraordinary baby was born in a shed out the back of a hotel – a stable.
Sometimes as Christians working with young people I think we try to create the perfect environments to see the extraordinary, we spend ages setting up our ‘Inn’s’ the ‘perfect’ environment for Jesus to be born to make his bed to lie down, sanitised, organised, suitable with appropriate health and safety checks, and then find Jesus has appeared in the stable next door, out the back, in chaos and dirt, without our help at all!!!
In Catalan, the Nativity Scene features a figure - normally a male peasant - defecating in the corner he’s called a Caganer. The Caganer reminds us that the birth of Jesus takes place whilst all the other sh*t is happening. Before life gets sanitised, whilst we are messy, whilst we are human.
I tried to practice looking for the extraordinary in the ordinary over Advent this year, in a more intentional way. Last night I found it, it was a mess. Whilst I was sitting in youth club (a perfect Inn, a couple of days before Christmas) I was taking a few moments out sitting on a sofa and at the end of the night, a young woman I’ve talked to a couple of times came up to and said, ‘I want to commit suicide’. Sharing her heart, the mess, the ache, everywhere: family issues, peer issues, mental health concerns, emotional breakdown, being 15 years old . It was in the middle of the session with people walking in and out, I was tired, it was nearly Christmas, and this wasn’t the way I wanted this disclosure to happen. I wanted it neater, cleaner, more sanitaised, easier to deal with and mop up. Sometimes it’s just easier in the Inn. You know the rules, it has clear boundaries and it feels familiar, safe even. But I can’t help but feel my experience throughout my ministry has mostly been in the stable rather than the Inn. Offhand conversations in the street, unpredictable disclosures in the chicken shop, late night conversations on residentials on the side of a football pitches, in the corridor before the young people have even got into our manicured session, the list goes on.
This is hard work. This is not straightforward. The rules are sometimes broken or at least bent.
In 2018 I’m going to be making more of an effort to spot and acknowledge the extraordinary in the ordinary. To aim to be more present in the ordinary, being with people in the ordinary, and not run away from it or try to make it fancier in the stable in the mess, the stench of our humanness, the unsanitary parts of life, and that’s where I think Jesus is. Not to dismiss the offhand comment or conversation as a ‘warm up’ to the main event or that salvation will come and look how I think it should – a nice sanitised, organised and well-presented Inn rather than a messy, sh**ty and broken stable.
I think this will make for a exciting and exhausting 2018!