Bending in Bethlehem


Jesus was born in Bethlehem. If you travel there today, perhaps the busiest place in all of Bethlehem is a tiny church called The Church of the Nativity, which is built over a small cave that is believed to be the “barn” where Jesus was born. It’s an interesting place for a variety of reasons, but the first thing you’ll notice if you go there is the door! Most cathedrals have doors that are sometimes 25 feet tall, but this little church has a narrow door that is 4’”2 tall. Why? Well the truth is that it was built that way to prevent horses pulling carts from entering!

But now the monks who run the place see it as a wonderful lesson in order to enter the sacred space of God, one must first learn to bend. A pretty cool lesson, actually.

 But the real truth about the Christmas story is that the first bending of the knee isn’t the shepherds’ knee, not the knee of Magi traveling from the East. The first person to bend was God. On Christmas morn, God humbly bent down to our lowest places, into the mess that is being human, not to chide us or embarrass us or makes us feel like dirt, but to be with us and to bear that mess and pain with us so we wouldn’t have to bear it by ourselves!

 One of the most loving moments in my life happened at one of my lowest. Cyndy and I were living in the small town of Wakonda, SD and we were moving to Dallas, TX. We had two children at the time: Ben was not quite 3 and Cassie was 9-month-old. Cyndy had moved to Dallas early to start a job and had taken Cassie with her, and I was still in Wakonda finishing up my teaching year and had Ben. (As I look back at this plan, I see holes everywhere...what were we thinking! But hey I was 26 and Cyd was 25 and we were dreamers...not planners!)

By Late May things were starting to unravel. Three months without Cyd was a disaster! Ben, who at first loved the “pajama party with dad” atmosphere, was missing the steady hand of his Mom, and by late May I needed to get out of the house in 24 hours or would be forced to pay another month’s rent (rent I was a month behind in paying)! Oh, and by the way, I had no way of getting to Dallas! Cyndy had needed ours in Dallas and I was walking to school! There was no way I was going to make this happen! 

Enter Mom and Dad and Clair, Cyndy’s dad. (I should mention Jocelyn, Cyndy’s mom.  She wasn’t there but I’m pretty sure Clair was there on her nudge!)  I hadn’t even called them! But there they were. They had the house (a mess behind mess: yikes!) cleaned and packed before I got out of school that day! Dad and Mom had brought an extra car I could “borrow” for a couple months (I had it 3 years), and Clair, Cyndy’s dad, had bought my landlord a friendly beer or two and settled up on the rent issues without telling me. And what was most important for me was they somehow did all this without one single, solitary word of guilt or shame! And believe you me there was plenty of mess to rub my face in! They entered my mess with the kind of humility that comes from knowing what a mess feels like, and they held my mess and shame in a way where I left that place with my dignity intact. I will never ever forget the grace I received that day, and the reverence I have for my parents and Cyndy’s parents comes from the way they entered my place of shame...with the humility of bended knee!

And that is exactly the way God chooses to enter our messy caves at Christmas. Not in judgement; not with sharpened finger pointing and proclaiming; but with a gentle, humble, heart bent on redeeming even you and me.

At Christmas, as I prepare my heart to bend at the manger, I don’t bend out of obedience, or as a reminder that “I need to be humble”. I don’t bend in order to “show the world my allegiance”, I choose to bend in awe and wonder, as one of God’s son or daughters who has been adopted into this family who refuses to let the humiliation of my mess define me. I can and do approach this God with an open heart because God doesn’t just love the good me, but the imperfect mess of a me too! That means I can bring my mess to him, to that love, and trust that somehow this God can walk with me and help me somehow become made new!

Your friend and pastor, praying you will join me and God’s bending place, the manger, Brook

Tim Schaaf