This fall when my wife and I went to Germany we stayed in a little town called Wernigerode. One of my favorite travel pastimes is to check out churches, so we stopped in to see the Evangelische Kirche St. Johannis (built 1279). Tucked away in the back corner, yet still on display was this congregation’s Nativity Set (crafted in 1993), open to all for contemplation. It looked hand carved. The pieces stood about two to three feet tall. The typical players were there – Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, Wise Men, Animals, and of course the baby Jesus in the manger. But what I found remarkable was who else was there. Standing next to the holy family is a man on crutches. Already on display in this little scene, found in a town church most of us have never visited is this amazing statement of faith. Jesus is born in to this world, wrapped in swaddling clothes and placed in a manger – not just because it is cute, trite, and easy to remember the story – but because he comes to help the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, and the sick to become well. Jesus accomplishes this feat by reaching out to them, touching them, embracing them. He turns to those excluded and says “follow me.” He turns to the guilty, the sinful and the unrighteous and he says, “live your life full of repentance.” He comes to those cut off, thrown away, discarded and left for dead, “arise.” He calls to you and me in our brokenness, whatever our burden is, and says with open arms, “believe.”
I like this infirmed man who approaches Jesus. He reminds me- even though he stands alone – of the man lowered through the roof top by his friends so that Jesus can heal him. In that story the man is paralyzed on a mat, not on crutches, but either way he has no business at the crèche. Read the story – it is full of animals, shepherds and the holy family, not a man on crutches (or a mat for that matter). But at least in my imagination I can see the top of that stable, cut away by the very inn keeper who told Joseph, “I am sorry I have no room for you, but come in and stay in the barn.” I love that this man is standing there – hoping, longing, waiting. Maybe his Advent expectations of seeing Christ represent all of us. As Christmas draws closer, maybe we could all find someone new to include in our crèche this year.
Who do we leave out in the cold? Who is still standing there idle? Who might need an invitation to come inside where it is warm and there are people gathered celebrating the coming of Christ? Who do you know who is hurting, or guilt ridden, or silent under the weight of some incredible burden? Come out of the cold. Bring them with you. Christ awaits us all inside.
Merry Christmas (a few days early),
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (Mark 2:5-12)