Today I cut the side of my toe.
I cut it in a weird way. I took a long walk to try to stretch out my aching hips, which are tight from sitting too much in a season of many things to do. In the late afternoon sun, I walked through my town and I felt an ache in my foot. I shook out my shoe, but as I resumed walking, so did the pain.
After the walk, back in the chair which was the cause of all the pain to start with, I kicked off my shoes and peeled back my wool socks. I have five toes on my right foot and the second one from the right, the little pig who did not have roast beef, was cut and bleeding. The culprit was a sharp corner on the smallest toe, pressed just close enough in my sock to damage. How we manage to wound ourselves in strange and new ways. It is all part of having a body.
That’s the kicker of the Incarnation- the enfleshing of God. Divine Love is poured into a body that can and will be scratched, cut, blistered, and bruised. And all that just from every day living. Jesus’s body- from compression through the birth canal to the indignities of puberty to simple hunger and exhaustion- was like ours. Long before the marks of the nail and the spear, before the rope burn of a full fishing net or a smashed finger in a carpentry job, Jesus’ body was wiped somewhat clean of afterbirth, swaddled to simulate the closeness of the womb, and held to his mother’s breast.
There are so many bodies in the Nativity story. Mary’s sweaty post-birth form and Joseph’s nervous, helpless-feeling one. The stench of shepherds, coming in from watching their flocks. The close musty smell of animals, their feed, and their waste. It’s a messy story, full of scarred, scabbed, and imperfect bodies.
This past year, 2020, has been one that has brought hyperawareness of bodies. How close are we standing? How long since you were hugged? Will you be in a bubble with me? Can we meet outside? I’m sorry, but maybe we can have a sleepover for your next birthday? Was that the last time I will see them? Is this goodbye? Can you come?
In the middle of political fights, pandemic precautions, and continued overt evidence of systemic racism and oppression, we are pressed to be aware of one another’s bodies. We are more aware than ever that all bodies are not the same. Not only not in terms of political or social standing or access, but actual physical bodies are not the same. We do not all have the same health histories, comorbidities, or underlying factors.
Somewhere, to be teased out in the next week or so, there is a through-line between the imperfectness of the bodies at the Nativity and our awareness of bodies in 2020. There is a sermon hook buried in the connections between a carpenter’s misshapen joints and long-haul COVID patients struggling to breathe deeply. There is a link between a woman who gives birth, away from the familiar faces of her home village, and those who are accompanied to the next life by nurses and doctors who are strangers. There is a thin space between shepherds who follow the guidance of a terrifying heavenly host and those who are making their best effort to shift with science and learn as they go.
If we have had any consolation this year, any hope, any courage, it has come from God’s presence in our flesh and in the flesh of those who have sustained us with their own bodies, even as we were apart. In our bodies, as in the manger, there is not always perfection, but there is Love.
Today, I cut the side of my toe. It will heal. But my body- soft, fleshy, scarred, identifying as female, but with no uterus, with sore hips- my body looks toward the manger, where the hope of all creation is only just beginning to discover what a body can do.
Ideas for Preaching on Christmas Eve:
- Consider a slideshow of Nativity scenes from around your congregation or around the world (or both). What do different cultures feature in their understanding of scene and the narrative?
- Consider unpacking the names for the One who is to come from Isaiah 9. How does Jesus fulfill those expectations? How do we, as Jesus people, carry those titles into the world for God’s glory?
- Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds all had very valid reasons to be afraid. Their fear did not necessarily magically dissipate when they saw Jesus. How can we live with fear and faith, side-by-side?
- What are characters from the margins of the story upon whom you might reflect? The shepherds who had to stay behind? A family member or innkeeper? A census taker?
- Can you adjust the Isaiah 9 imagery to fit 2020? Masks put away, PPE sealed up, lungs breathing freely?
If you are at the very end of your capacity, it is always okay to let the story speak for itself. My favorite Christmas poem, Ring Out, Wild Bells, or your favorite can be read aloud. Even a narrative about the history of 1-2 favorite Christmas carols is something that people will enjoy hearing.
In 2020, enough isn’t just as good as a feast- enough is a feast. You are enough. And the message God brings through you, and your body, will be too.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Big Timber Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Big Timber, MT. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com and readsallthethings.com. She contributed to There’s A Woman in the Pulpit and is President of the board of RevGalBlogPals, Inc.
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