Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Strawing of the Manger

After our 3:00 Christmas Eve service, our sign language interpreter said to me, "I like the Strawing of the Manger best. We don't have that in our tradition." (She's Methodist.)

I didn't know about the Strawing of the Manger either. A few years ago, when the children stopped singing on Christmas eve (so many of them were out of town), we were trying to figure out what to do differently for our afternoon service, and decided to make it into a "family" service." I have a couple with a new baby play the "holy family" every year, process into the church and stand by the manger during the reading of the gospel. We have six children read a verse of prophecy near the beginning of the service. And the Senior Pastor suggested that we have the youngest children put the straw in the manger, to get it ready for the baby Jesus.

We get a big bag of straw and invite them up. We don't reallly have a "children's message", but we have each of the children put some of the straw in the manger, to make a soft bed for him. Some of them put a few straws in, some put whole armfuls in. The last little boy on Monday made two efforts. He was about 2 1/2 or 3.

Afterwards, there is straw in the manger, and straw all over the floor too. In other words, it's a moderate to big mess. And we don't vaccuum it up between services. It stays a mess, all during Christmas eve.

It's just right for Christmas eve. For when else does God come to us, but in the middle of our mess? I get up to preach at that early service on Christmas, and I think: I try so hard to make the perfect Christmas, to preach a lovely sermon, to design wonder-ful worship services, to make a good family dinner, to buy meaningful presents. It's good to remember as I get up to preach, that my best efforts really end up being a big mess.

But God comes anyway.

Emmanuel -- in the middle of our mess, when our best efforts make it worse, when our best efforts are not enough, when our hearts are still hard.

I visited a woman with Alzheimers the Saturday before Christmas eve. Her husband was with her, but it wasn't a good day. She kept saying, "I'm so afraid," and he kept trying to reassure her that he would stay with her and take care of her. At one point she turned to him and said sharply, "What if you can't do it? What if your best isn't good enough? I'm afraid."

Our best is never "good enough".

But God comes anyway.

Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Glory to the Newborn King.


Singing Owl said...

Thank you.

I was sitting here feeling sorry for myself and wondering why I bother to make the perfect atmosphere, music, message. etc. etc. and does anyone care...

God comes. God cares.

Happy New Year!

gartenfische said...

I love this. It's wonderful to remember that we don't have to be perfect. God is with us anyway. And does God really expect perfection? I don't think so. We do, but God doesn't.

Blessed Christmas!

P.S. an after-thought said...

A visual metaphor at its best! Wonderful images.

Katherine E. said...

Wow. Thank you, Diane. This is so well-written and such an important reminder for me.

RevDrKate said...

A wonderful metaphor and a message worth hearing by those of us who now and again think we must be perfect to merit God....thanks!

FranIAm said...

This was beautiful- moving as always Diane.

Rowan The Dog said...

This is a hopeful message, Diane.

Grendel said...

All Dogs are Hopeful. They always think Good Will Come. And it Does!

That is why God Loves us the Best, but He Still Loves you humans Too.

And everyone knows Dogs Love a mess. Especially a Cat Mess. On the Floor.


Love and Gravy,
esp. to you Diane, you are very Good and Loving,


mompriest said... let go of the need, the desire for - perfection...and let God into the mess...sigh...

Barbara B. said...

Thank you -- really great thoughts here (as always!)

Magdalene6127 said...

This sounds absolutely wonderful. I'm glad it was a gorgeous mess.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Diane, how lovely. You're right; sometimes the harder we try to have things perfect, the greater the mess.

And God comes anyway. I think God loves messy, or he couldn't love us.

Presbyterian Gal said...

What a great tradition, the strawing.

And it's true, nothing we do will ever ever be good enough. And it will always be OK with God. And we will keep forgetting that over and over until blessings like you remind us.


Rev SS said...

Oh yes ... God comes anyway ... and maybe God comes because it's a mess ... it's out of chaos that God created all this in the first place ... and out of chaos God continues to create

Beautiful post. Thank you. Blessed Christmas Season to you!

Paul said...

It is so true that we make messes and God comes to us nonetheless. Thanks for crystalizing this truth for us in this Christmas posting.

David said...

I love the fact that you leave the "mess" for others to see later. It is a powerful use of symbolism, and it also gives witness to the children in worship.

more cows than people said...

wow indeed. glad i'm catching up here today. thank you.