Occupy the manger #5: Giving up on perfect

Chapter 2 in Mike Slaughter’s Christmas is Not Your Birthday is called “Giving up on perfect.” He talks about the way that Christmas has become a time when we put enormous pressure on ourselves to make it the perfect experience. I’ve been a little sheepish to hear all the chit-chat that other people have been making about all the decorations that they’re putting up: the lights, the tree, etc. So let me just come out and say that my family does not have our Christmas tree up, nor our lights, nor any of the other knicknacky things that are still in a box somewhere. We haven’t even gotten done with raking our autumn leaves yet.

This picture pretty well captures how I feel about the sport of competitive Christmas. I wish they sold “Ditto” Christmas lights at Target because I would definitely buy a set and be done. In any case, the point that Mike Slaughter makes in his book is that Christmas is supposed to be all about life’s messiness rather than the fake Disney world that we’ve turned it into.

It should blow our minds that the creator and redeemer of the universe took on flesh as a baby born in an animal feeding trough. He was born on a road trip, not in the hospital, not even in Mary and Joseph’s home, but in a barn. So basically the modern-day equivalent would be a truck-stop bathroom, or as the Allmen Brothers’ song goes, the back of a Greyhound bus.

Slaughter makes a simple point that will pretty much change how I picture the manger scene in my head forever:

Jesus was born in a stable, a cave where animals where kept. Wherever there are animals there is dung. And where there is dung there are flies. [22]

Did you forget the flies in your mantle-top nativity scene this year? Flies. That’s a word that signifies a basic socioeconomic dividing line. People who live in a fly-infested world do not have the basic modicum of sanitary decency that middle-class Americans like me take for granted. The original Christmas was probably fly-infested. We may not have our Christmas tree up, but our house isn’t filled with a swarm of flies. I’m not saying we should leave our dirty dishes out to create a fly colony and have a more “authentic” Christmas. But it’s worth remembering how completely unlike Jesus’ original experience our Tinseltown anxiety fest has become.

My church is hosting about forty homeless people this week in a program called Hypothermia that we do in collaboration with dozens of other area churches. Many of our guests have to live with similar hygiene challenges to the fly-infested world that Jesus was born into. It will be a blessing to hang out and eat together with them. Maybe that’s what Christmas is supposed to feel like.

About Morgan Guyton

I’m the director of the NOLA Wesley Foundation, which is the United Methodist campus ministry at Tulane and Loyola University in New Orleans, LA.

  • http://www.wabashfirstumc.org Carol

    I am fascinated with the Hypothermia program. Do you hang out at your place or theirs? Just a thought.

    Could you tell me more about the program; what it entails other than what you described? It sounds like it is a program lots of churches could do.

    Thanks!

    Carol, First United Methodist Church, Wabash, Indiana

    • Morgan Guyton

      We open up our building and host about 50 guests with a team of volunteers who cook, set up, host, and watch overnight. Our missions pastor Judy Fender has a better grasp of all the nuts and bolts: judyfenderATburkeumcDOTorg.


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