I am taking a deep breath tonight. In a few hours about 30 kids, a full orchestra, and a choir singing Part I of Handel’s Messiah will lead our congregation in worship. I’ve been sick – the “I can’t get out of bed” sick – for three days. My Tuesday prep didn’t happen because I had the holy honor of burying a long-term, beloved church member. I also have three children, two of whom are also sick, not to mention about a hundred other Christmas-is-almost-here things that need to get done.
Since I don’t like chaos, and since I like to be in control, this is a tough moment for me. At this late hour not all the sheep for our “Living Gospel” have legs. I’m not sure if we have the Styrofoam needed for our little ones to put up their stars. And I haven’t enlarged the font so the angel Gabriel can read her long lines.
So instead of worrying I’m going to follow the God of swaddling cloths. Swaddling cloths, the kind from the Gospel of Luke – “you’ll find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloth.” It seems like such an odd detail for the angels to tell the shepherds in order for them to identify baby Jesus. Then Luke mentions this detail again – “she wrapped him in swaddling cloth.” Why does it matter?
Recently a friend of mine who studies early Christianity told me that those swaddling cloths were Mary’s undergarments. These were her undergarments, soaked in blood and birthing fluid, probably the only thing she had. My friend Kate was sharing with me this image of the God of the universe, wrapped in strips of cloth, covered in Mary’s blood.
Maybe that was God’s way of saying to the shepherds, “Look! My son is really, really poor. He’s one of you.” Or maybe it was God wanting to show that there is no limit to the ways Jesus is going to enter into humanity, that no human experience is out of bounds. Whatever the reason, it reminds me that from the very beginning, literally the first moments of life, God jumped into the mess. And God stayed there.
I think tomorrow is going to be good. It’s going to be messy, and fun, and probably a little more chaotic than I like it. But I also know God shows up wrapped in bloody underwear, that God shows up as a person, and that God still show up as persons.
So tomorrow the Gospel will be preached through singing and children and legless paper sheep. It will happen with or without me. Swaddling cloths. Lord, make me ready to receive you.