No Stable, No Manger
“I’m going to the flea market. I don’t want to hear this,” complained my aunt.
My uncle, a minister, was retelling the Christmas narrative. He said his version was more accurate. She said he was ruining it. “You’re taking my story away!”
My uncle was referencing Kenneth E. Bailey (1–37). Bailey demonstrates from Luke 2:1–20 and from history that Mary did not give birth to Jesus alone in a flea-infested stable, nor lay him in a wooden trough because there was a “no vacancy” sign at the Bethlehem Super 8.
Rather, Mary gave birth to Jesus in the main room, not the guest-room, of Joseph’s family’s home and laid the swaddled baby in a feed hollow that was carved into the stone at the lower end of the sloping floor. It kept Jesus from rolling off the floor into the lower animal-hall at the foot of the house. Anyway, there wasn’t room for a woman in labor, the midwife, a squalling baby, and the helping family women to squeeze into the guest room.
So much for the annual Christmas pageant. And most paintings of Jesus’ birth narrative. Also nativity scenes and crèches everywhere. Not to mention the movies.
No (White) Santa
Apparently Kriss Kringle won’t be squeezing down my chimney to bring me presents this year either. If you’ve followed the white Christmas “conversation” between Slate.com and Fox News for the last two weeks, you’re probably disappointed, too.
Aisha Harris of Slate.com called upon Americans to divest themselves of “Santa the old white man” in favor of “Penguin Claus.” Penguin Claus would help stamp out “the whole ‘white-as-default’ notion” that prevents children of color from feeling like Christmas belongs to them, too.
Megyn Kelly of Fox News called a panel of three experts to discuss the proposal. They concluded that it wouldn’t work because Saint Nicholas, the historically unattested bishop on whom Santa Claus is loosely based, was white. Also penguins come from the South Pole. Anticipating enraged letters to the editor and attempting to head them off, Megyn Kelly reassured her audience that Santa does exist and he “just is white.”
Harris responded that Santa isn’t real and neither is whiteness. She called it a “historical construct.”
News sources and commentators to the left and right of this Santa “just is white” issue weighed in. Much to our American shame, other countries are now mocking our white Christmas controversy as evidence of how “completely demented” we are.
A Wrap and a Hollow
No terribly-treated Holy Family on whom to project “all the years” of my own Christmas “hopes and fears”? No Santa, or more importantly, no magical present-bearing personage of any color to momentarily distract me with materialism from my unfulfilled Christmas expectations?
I was hoping for shazam. Now what do I do with this steaming pile of anticipation?
The shepherds got an angel, glory, a multitude of shouting supernaturals, and the shazam scared right out of them. But their personal sign of a savior, according to Bailey (Kenneth, not George), was a wrap and a hollow. They wouldn’t find the prince who warranted all this hoopla in a palace, but in a local peasant house.
Swaddling with clean rags and a notch carved for cow-feed were the source of their amazement. Angels might sing the Hallelujah Chorus, but shepherds found their joy in the ordinary. Their ordinary.
Their Savior belonged to them.