Today’s Advent post is written by Ryan Harrison. When Ryan isn’t dreaming up ways to reach out to her community and participate in Kingdom building, she’s working and writing (and writing when she should probably be working).
I decided to brainstorm my guest list, the way one might brainstorm wedding or party guests.
Manger Guest List:
- People who don’t think like me (as long as they don’t crowd me)
- People who don’t act like me (people who act more hateful, more judgmental, more foolish, less empathetic, less kind than me)
- People who need the manger more than I do (those who need a reminder that Christmas isn’t about shopping or parties, but about worship)
- People who need to repent for their sinful ways more than I do
- People who don’t feel the weight of justice and mercy the way I do
What an incredibly insensitive (at the least) and hurtful guest list; I’m ashamed to admit it’s mine. But when challenged to think honestly about who we would invite to the manger, that’s the list that emerged. I thought of all the ways the manger could be kept neat and tidy, by keeping those who thought differently at arms’ length, over there by the stable. I thought of all the ways the manger represents the upside-down of the season, and all the people who needed a little bit more upheaval in their thinking about God, King and Country. I thought of all the people who just could not fathom the King of Israel, the Redeemer of Israel being laid to bed in the pungent smell that seeps into the skin and the dust that cakes on layers thick. I thought of all the people who held onto the shreds of power the way a baby twists his mom’s hair around his fingers and in between his knuckles, matting it in sticky drool. I thought of all those who ignore the rending hearts, the seam-ripping sorrow that fills the air in cities across the world. I thought that they could all crowd in close to the manger to see the newborn King.
But the person I didn’t think about, the person who most needs to be invited to the manger is me.
I need the manger.
I have a pit in my stomach and I don’t think it’s from too many Christmas cookies. My inability to admit that I am the one in need of a manger has crept up on me and it’s settled in, rooting itself into my stomach the way a hedgehog burrows deep into the dirt. I am the one who needs the upside-down Emmanuel. I need the upside-down of the King who welcomes sinners and tax collectors into his presence but also Pharisees in the dark crevices of the night. I need the upside-down King who isn’t afraid to tell his disciples that they have it all wrong, that their empty arguing about first and last isn’t the way of the kingdom—even after they’d known so long, seen and heard for so long that it wasn’t the way. I need the upside-down King who says, ‘just one more step’ to the man who really isn’t willing to follow Him so far, after all. I need the upside-down of the One who loves the deserter-denier, who calls out beloved instead of betrayer. I need the upside-down King who tells me I’m holding on to my life too much and the only way to keep it is to lose it: gradually, step-by-step for the sake of others and sometimes all at once for them, too.
I need the manger. I need to be invited to rejoice over the tightly swaddled baby, the light that destroys the darkness, all-creation-turned-upside-down Emmanuel. And then perhaps, my guest list will reflect God’s heart and not my own.