You’ve been there. Maybe you’re at a Christmas party in a big fancy house. You down a couple glasses of punch and then head down the hallway to answer nature’s call. Project completed you wash your hands and reach for a towel. There on the towel rail hangs an array of fancy hand towels. Some are snow white with gold letters embroidered above a lace trim. Others are crimson red with elaborate designs stitched into them. Folded and hung with precision, they form a velvet display worthy of a magazine bathroom. Surely your hostess doesn’t expect you to wipe your hands on these. Not only would you spoil the display if you actually used one, but all the embroidery and trim leave you hardly any room to wipe.
You glance around the bathroom for a more suitable towel. You find a set of sparkling white bath towels, but people who live here might be using them for personal drying and you don’t want to invade their space.
You hear footsteps at the door and begin to hunt for a pet towel or cleaning rag, but while this bathroom is filled with decoration, every square inch of fabric screams, “Don’t touch me! I’m too nice to be useful for anything.” You wipe your hands on your pant leg and open the door.
Two thousand years of Christmas celebration have created a similar image of Baby Jesus. He lies in a manger with a halo around his head. The crowded village around him (the same ones who had no room for the expectant mother to spend the night) waits in hushed expectation around the manger bed. Even the animals kneel in worship. Baby Jesus never cries or soils his swaddling clothes. The faint smell of cinnamon fills the air as carolers sing, “Silent Night, Holy Night.”
This Christmas Jesus paints a pretty picture, but the true Baby Jesus was far more approachable. Mary probably felt the labor pains as strongly as any mother giving birth. Joseph likely shoveled manure to one side of the floor and cleaned up after the birth. Shepherds in their work clothes didn’t sanitize their hands before they entered the room filled with dusty straw. Noisy customers from nearby inns likely made the night anything but silent. Baby Jesus likely cried at the picture perfect moment, and struggled with the normal problems of a baby beginning to nurse. But it didn’t matter when the scene fell short of the Hallmark card expectations. This was God in the flesh. He would learn and grow as a normal baby. He wouldn’t look special. Though he would always do the right thing, he would often do the unexpected thing and even his parents wouldn’t understand sometimes. He would be different from the other boys, but he would always be real.
John lived with Jesus for three years. He says, “We handled him.” 1 John 1:3 John walked dusty roads with Jesus. He watched the exhausted Son of Man lie down in a dirty fishing boat and fall asleep. He saw Jesus smile at songs of praise children sang. He witnessed the sadness in Jesus’ eyes as an enemy betrayed him and a friend denied knowing him. He watched Jesus weather the criticism and adoration. He saw Jesus reach out to a wealthy scholar, an immoral woman of mixed ancestry, a woman caught in the act of adultery, a rich young ruler, a leper. Nothing about Jesus shouted, “Don’t touch me!” John didn’t always understand Jesus, but he witnessed three years of Jesus’ love and transparency with people. Jesus’ actions spoke louder than words when, on the eve of his death, he took a towel and basin of water and washed the feet of his friends.
How can we live approachable lives like Jesus did? In a desire to look good in ministry, we can show a sanitized version of our lives that makes us less than approachable. This may make us look impressive but the people around us need us to be real, to care more about how we help than how we look.
We can show people we struggle with the same issues they do when we serve with transparency. Friendship demands honesty.
Invite people inside when your house is a mess. Serve the dessert that didn’t come out right. Share your disappointments, worries, and joys. Admit it when you don’t know the answer. Learn from others. Laugh at your mistakes. Admit when you’re wrong. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Work outside your comfort zone. Be satisfied with a job that is well done, but not perfect. Cut yourself some slack. Save your guilt for sin, don’t waste it on honest mistakes.
Jesus cared more about compassion than appearances. We’re constantly surprised at the people he picks out of the crowd.
When you encounter someone who has rejected you, be the first to speak. Be kind to people outside your theological box. Be a friend to a person who is covered with tattoos. Make eye contact with a disabled or a person with a deformity. Affirm the value of an overweight friend. Receive a gift or favor from a low income family. Listen to a child. Smile at a grump. Recognize spiritual progress in one who is struggling. Show patience to someone who doesn’t deserve it.
Jesus modeled honest compassion that cut to the heart of the needs of people. As we minister to people may we follow his example and allow people to handle us so our lives can touch them with the love of Christ.
(Due to a changeover of my website this blog was not able to be viewed by most people. If you are seeing this for the second time, I apologize for the confusion.)
[Image by Andy Lidstone/Deposit Photos]