This year, while helping me unpack from our recent house move, Sophia stumbled upon our “elf” several days before Thanksgiving, I silently groaned, “It begins earlier this year.”
Sophi, my youngest daughter, loves to believe in Santa and, as if putting up a tree, buying gifts, going to numerous plays, light displays and coordinating a dinner isn’t enough of a gauntlet for a solo mom, or any parent, for that matter…there’s the daily, creative hurtle of moving that blasted elf. Not just moving it, creating a whole personal narrative around her nightly excursions.
Sophia was so excited to have Crystal, our elf, visit our house earlier this year that she happily wrote a note to her while I was unpacking. Later, in the rush to clean up for dinner, I mistakenly threw away her carefully crafted note to Crystal. Sophia wept. “I’m so sorry, Baby,” I consoled her while huge tears slid down her cheeks, “Could you write another?” And when Sophi did, she angrily wrote, “Are you even real?” And scribbled all over the paper with her crayons.
I did not post that moment on Facebook. it was an epic “Mommy Fail” kicking off the Christmas season.
My oldest daughter, Arie, ever the investigative journalist, cracked the code on Santa when she was four years old. Now, as the older sister, Arie has lovingly, patiently helped keep that Santa magic alive every year for her younger sister, Sophia. Arie loves that Sophia loves to believe. So eighty five percent of Crystal’s movement can be credited to Arie. (I claim the Mom-Code, of course don’t share with Sophia if you know us.)
The truth is that one day Sophia will accept the reality of this “Santa” game we play. I struggle every year as a parent, knowing this whole Santa thing is nothing more than a fun distraction from deeper truth, but still lamenting the day my youngest stops believing in him. It feels like a loss of innocence.
Sophia instinctively knows that deep magic really exists and wants to believe it. She certainly believes in God…but is God and Jesus the same as Santa? What can be trusted? Something had to be done.
It was time to tell my girls the real Christmas Advent-ure, it’s magic so deep, so unstoppable, so inconvenient, that it’s quite scandalous to share. Last night, I told the whole sorted story to my daughters, and not the polite G-rated-blow-up-inflatable-lawn-art version.
I was exhausted, this moment was wildly inconvenient, having just flown in the night before from a funeral in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. “Should I take them, Dad?” I asked half-hoping he would agree I should not drive the 100 miles each way to the Biblical History Center in La Grange, GA for the most interesting, most accurate retelling of the Nativity story that I know. “Yes, if you feel up to it, Daughter, you should go. The girls need to know the truth of Christmas,” my 82 year old father affirmed. Of course, I had told them the story of Christmas, the polite version. But this year was going to be different.
This is the Biblical History Center in La Grange, GA. It is a living history biblical antiquities museum.
Our car radio is broken. It has been for about a year now. The fuse always blows out, so we haven’t heard one Christmas carol on the radio this year while driving. We just sing them ourselves. This is so pleasant to me that I haven’t replaced the fuse even though I have three new ones in the glove box of the car. Again, folks, Mom-Code.
My two girls and I had 90 minutes of driving before us with no radio, no DVD player and no iPad in the car. “Let’s tell stories, Mom,” Sophia asked. I also love doing this with my girls. They start spinning a yarn about Santa and an evil fairy and stolen presents…
When we finish this story, I say, “Girls, I have a God Adventure story to tell you and it has the deepest, truest, most powerful magic there is. You never have to stop believing this magic. It is unchanging. You can always trust it. You will never outgrow it. And, if you choose, you will have your own God Adventure in your lifetime, though it will look different because God has a unique purpose for
each of us during our time on earth.
A realistic version of the sheep fold cave Miriam, mother of Yeshua (Jesus) most likely gave birth in.
This magic isn’t easy, often times it’s inconvenient, dangerous and even scandalous. But if you stay with it, trust it, it’s unending Love changes you into the best, most purposeful version of yourself, for your entire life.
This is the story of Christmas, and it all begins with the untimely pregnancy of a girl, about 14 years old…a girl the town’s people, at best, gossiped about and, at worst, wanted to kill.
They all certainly thought she was crazy.
Miryam, (in English, Mary), is a Jewish girl who is devoted to God, and shocked when the angel Gavri’el, (in English, Gabriel) asks her, quite by surprise one day, if she is willing to carry the Moshiach (in English, Messiah) as her firstborn child.
Obedience to God’s request will irrevocably shatter this young girl’s safe life. Still, Miryam chooses to trust God and says “yes” to Gavri’el. We don’t know exactly how, but Miryam is impregnated, before wedlock, by the Ruach HaKodesh, (in English, the Holy Sprit).
Now an unwed mother, Miryam, shares this incredible God-mission with her betrothed, Yosef (in English, Joseph). He is a good, upstanding Jewish man, devoted to God, surely he will believe her…and keep her safe.
Yosef has been dutifully creating a home for their upcoming marriage: an honorable wife, an honorable home, an honorable life. But in one sentence from Miryam, his dreams are shattered. According to ancient Jewish law, Miryam could legally be stoned until death for her perceived adultery. He doesn’t believe her.
But it gets better.
Yosef, is rocked to his core. His thoughts are spinning. What is he to do with his soon-to-be bride, now pregnant with a child not his own? How could she betray him like this? The whole town will talk. It’s so humiliating. So dishonorable. Miryam says she is bearing God’s Moshiach. God hasn’t spoken to His people in Israel for the last 400 years, and now she believes His is speaking to her: a woman, a girl, no less? Is she insane?
Does Miryam feel rejected at every turn? Probably. What does her family think? What does her father say? Does he even look at her? She has brought so much shame to their family name.
The real story of Christmas is unexpected, socially offensive and fraught with danger.
How can this be God at work? All the rules seem to be broken. Still, Yosef, a kind man, purposes not to have Miryam killed by stoning, but instead intends to put her away quietly. His hope for an honorable family and marriage with Miryam, now dashed into the broken pieces of disbelief and distrust.
Miryam doesn’t fight Yosef. She watches her dreams of her future with him crumble and she does not protest, an amazing show of courage for a girl the age of today’s 10th grade high schoolers. The prospects for unwed mothers in ancient Jewish times were not good. Marriage was a way for women to secure positive social standing, a family, provision and protection.
Back then, Miryam could not go to night school and then launch her career as a single mom. She is now a tainted woman for the rest of her life. No honorable man will marry her. She is destined for shame and poverty, maybe even death. She has sacrificed it all in obedience to God and does not rail against Him for the danger and heartbreak His Moshiach has brought her, but, laying down even her very life, she moves forward in this pregnancy.
She simply trusts God.
Possibly to let things cool down, Miryam goes away to another town to stay with her aging family member, Elisheba (in English, Elizabeth), who, older and always barren, is now miraculously pregnant too! She will bear the Moshiach’s Cousin…Yochanan (John) the Immerser, the herald for the Messiah.
God provides hope in a family setting.
While Miryam is staying with Elisheba an angel confirms to Yosef in a dream that what his betrothed bride said is indeed true, Miryam is truly carrying the long-awaited Moshiach who will save His people from their sins. Is Yosef willing to be an earthly father to this Child? Yosef now accepts Miryam as his wife.
Wait. We couldn’t have that confirmation dream happen sooner, like the night Miryam first tells Yosef? Or maybe that day in his afternoon nap? What’s up with the suspense timing, God???
Maybe this couple waited Months, agonizing MONTHS, with broken hearts, not knowing there would be an angelic confirmation dream.
But even in that silent tension, God was still at work.
Miryam waited and trusted…growing ever more pregnant, returning from Elisheba’s home to her own hometown.
Yosef will now parent a son that is not his own. He will not have relations with his own wife until after she gives birth. Miryam is full with child, not married, and all the folks in their small town know it. Even in their obedience, this new family will always bear the whispers of snide gossip about Miryam and their first born Son.
Could God have actually ordained this path for a godly man, a godly woman and His Moshiach? How could this be their dream marriage based in faith and obedience?
When you follow God’s leading, isn’t it supposed to be perfect…at least…Easier? Isn’t that the mark of the Spirit’s leading, everything coming together easily? Isn’t that what they deserve as obedient followers of God?
This is the Inconvenient Advent we celebrate…the Greatest Advent-ure of All…the King of Kings born in a sheep stall. The Mighty Paradox, the Deepest Magic, the Nativity Scandal that still reverberates, like earth quake aftershocks in our hearts, even two thousand years later.
A census was taking place when it was time for Miryam to give birth. Maybe Yosef thought it wasn’t wise to leave her alone to give birth in a town of righteous indignation. So Miryam, heavy with child, traveled for days to Yoseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, because in a census, only men were counted.
Any woman who’s been pregnant can imagine how much fun it would be to travel on a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for 70-80 miles while in her ninth month. In case you don’t know, it probably felt like little internal electric shocks with each. dusty. bumpy. lumpy. jarring. step. while her Baby’s head, ready to be born soon, puts pressure on her cervix. (Or at least that’s what just walking felt like for me in my 9th month of pregnancy). I bet it even felt better for Miryam sitting atop a donkey’s boney spine on uneven ancient roads.
This young woman has some serious stamina and moxie.
I like her the more I think about her.
When the couple finally gets to Yosef’s hometown of Bethlehem, it was packed with people due to the census. Miryam was ready to give birth, contractions most likely started, her water already broken.
Most homes had an “upper room,” a cenacle, for use as a guest room or dining area (think about the Passover Last Supper and Pentecost which happened in “upper rooms”). According the the Biblical History Center, the word “inn” (as in “there was no room at the inn) is better translated to “guest room.”
Biblical History Center’s founder, Dr. Fleming, showing what an “upper room” (over his left shoulder) would have looked like.
Wouldn’t it have made sense for Yosef to try to stay with his extended family in his hometown, especially with a pregnant wife about to give birth? But there was no room..in their Guest Room.
When it came time for Miryam to give birth no one, not even family, would want her to have that Baby in their home. The blood from childbirth, according to ancient Jewish custom, would have made the “upper room” unclean for 33 days, if a son was born, and 60 days, if a daughter was born.
Accommodating this Baby was in their home was simply impractical. The birth would have made that upper room, maybe even the entire home, ceremonially unclean and very inconvenient for the entire family.
So Miryam, was directed to give birth probably in a nearby sheep stall, or cave, where the animals were kept. A fourteen or fifteen year old girl, contractions now coming swift and hard, about to give birth on her own, for the first time with no mother or midwife to guide her.
A nervous, new couple about to bring The Messiah into the world, alone,
in a cave.
This is core of Christmas, underneath its bows, presents, parties and glitter, quietly illuminating the Inconvenient Story that…
God doesn’t play by our rules. Often the God-Adventure is Unpredictable and certainly Unsafe.
The original Advent is the account of God’s call to Yosef and Miryam into His Grand Advent-ure. God asked them then, and He seems to always ask us now…
“Are you willing?”
“Are you willing to trust Me and accept the risk that Advent-ure with Me brings? On this journey, will you allow Me to transform you, becoming the best version of yourself, while you trust Me at each, sometimes harrowing, turn? I am the “With Us” God,” are you willing to learn of Me, grow with Me as we journey together?
This Advent-ure never looks the way we expect it to. It’s not pretty, not perfect, not predictable…instead Risky, Dangerous, even Scandalous.
The “righteous” may even gossip, family may not understand.
Miryam and Yosef pressed on anyway and their Baby was born. They named him Yeshua, we call him Jesus, King of Kings.
The “Word Made Flesh” dwelling among us. The Great Invasion: God on Earth in human skin, completed in the cry of a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths: a symbol even in His birth of the mission He came to complete, the wrapping of his body for his death and Resurrection.
Scenes from the Biblical History Museum Christmas Story Telling. Goat-hair tents that the shepherds would have used.
The shepherds were watching over their flocks at night because this was harvest season…probably in the fall of the year.
So deeply Divine was this moment that hosts of angels couldn’t hold back their praise any longer, now filling the night sky, bursting forth with song, terrifying some local shepherds, rocking the heavens as they sang:
“Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace,
good will toward men.”
The Nativity Scandal confronts us with these questions, “Are you willing to embrace the Advent-ure that God calls you to, even when it comes into your life through the unexpected packaging of pain, loss, suffering and isolation? “
“Can you trust God to work even then?”
My daughter Arie exploring a tomb typical of that time, a tomb Yeshua, Jesus, would likely have used for burial.
Learning about ceremonial ancient Jewish burial and how Peter would have believed in the Resurrection of the Messiah just by looking at how the grave cloths were arranged.
“What if Divine Scandal is the way God cracks our lives wide open to shine His Light through us?”
If we choose to continually say “Yes” to Him, trusting God, it may not be an easy journey, but it will always be an Advent-ure to Remember that culminates
in New Life and Resurrection Power.
Sophia looked up at me after the Christmas program at the Biblical History Center, “Mom, can we come back here every year?”
“Yes, my Love, yes we can,” I replied as we hugged.
Merry Deep, Risky, Scandalous, Magical Christmas to All.
Part of this telling is mine and many of the detailed facts are gleaned from the historical telling of the Christmas story at the Biblical History Center in La Grange, GA.
We all may overdo it at Christmas, myself included. Just consider taking time to tell the deep magic of Christmas, the inconvenient truths…for here our souls find true hope and healing, the real magic of Christmas.
Mishael Porembski is a widowed mom, adventurer, author of the 180 Your Life
grief empowerment books and random elf-mover. Learn more at 180YourLife.com