Mangered: Sticks and Stones

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.”  This is one of the awful phrases of old we teach our children that is completely false.  Maybe we said it to ourselves and others thinking it would actually come true if we said it loud and often enough, like politicians do with the media.  But we now know better (about both).  In truth, the hurt often caused by sticks and stones for most people goes away pretty quickly – a week or two and you never knew anything happened.  But words cut deep.  Sometimes words said at an early age affect a person’s trajectory so significantly that they find themselves making decisions based on hurt they never knew they needed to process.  Words have the power to cause far greater damage than other weapons simply because of their lasting power.

There were plenty of hurtful words flying around at the time Jesus was born.  If you were a woman, you were property.  If you were an immigrant, you were suspect and unwelcome.  If you were poor, you were obviously not blessed by God.  If you were born with some sort of birth defect, or somehow acquired a disease like leprosy during your life, it was evidence of God’s condemnation due to your sin.  If you were a Gentile, you were seen as unloved by God.  If you were a Samaritan, you were detested by God.  If you were gay, you were told that you were an abomination in God’s eyes.  Tax collector?  Prostitute?  Expect some especially choice words to remind you what scum you are.

It’s interesting, then, that the birth narrative of Jesus involves lots of people who were on the receiving end of such words.  Much more than Joseph, Mary is the heroin of the story, a young woman who may have had royalty in her family tree but lived in abject poverty.  Joseph, who got his share of the limelight by not divorcing Mary, was a carpenter.  Don’t think finish carpenter or artisan creating fine furniture.  Think day laborer hanging around the Home Depot parking lot hoping to get picked up for a job.  The place where Jesus was born?  Drop the Hallmark card image of a nice, tidy barn.  Instead, picture a poop filled cave, reeking, with filth everywhere you look.  Imagine ex-cons tending sheep in the middle of the night because that’s the only job they could land.  They were the ones who were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ birth.  The wise men?  Foreigners who would not be looked upon favorably by conservative Jewish purists due to their ethnicity and their penchant for astrology.  The critical characters in the birth narrative?  People who were intimately familiar with words that levied more damage than sticks and stones. 

The meaning for them?  God wasn’t swayed by the labels.  Or, perhaps God was so filled with compassion because of the labels inflicted upon these people that God’s response was love and inclusion, both of which overshadowed the insults and undoubtedly fostered healing.  This God who was bringing a new way of being into the world was a sticks and stones breaker.  A God who loves humanity despite how they treat each other.

The response of the shepherds?  They brought their stick-shafts with them – a part of themselves that were part of the gift of their homage paid that night at the stable.  And the Magi?  They brought their stones of gold to offer to this poor couple as an expression of their belief that Jesus was a newborn King.

What does this night mean to you?  What is your take home, knowing that God chose to use some of the most vulnerable people of the day to pull off something incredible, and chose to announce what happened to vulnerable, wounded people first?  I hope it comes across as good news to you, because it is.  You are inherently loved.  No matter what you may feel about yourselves, the message of Christmas is: God loves everyone – and most poignantly those who have been told otherwise. 

And what is your response to the good news?  Will you receive it?  Will you own it?  Will you process what it means for your life?  Will you let it work itself out in your life?  Will you proclaim it? 

May you find yourself singing from personal experience and witness this night into tomorrow:

Joy to the world the Lord is come

Let earth receive her King

Let ev'ry heart prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world the Savior reigns

Let men their songs employ

While fields and floods

Rocks hills and plains

Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat the sounding joy

Repeat repeat the sounding joy

He rules the world with truth and grace

And makes the nations prove

The glories of His Righteousness

And wonders of His Love

And wonders of His Love

And wonders wonders of His Love