Sitting around a campfire years ago, I led a group of seminarians and professors in a time of silence.
Afterwards, one of the professors shared that not long into the quiet she began to smell something unsavory. After a few moments, she realized the smell was body odor and a moment later realized it was her own!
Her first response was shame. Since it was at the beginning of our time she decided that rather than get up and leave, she would sit with her shame and her body odor in the holy silence. And slowly she began to feel the love of God envelop her and speak lovingly to her from within herself. Within minutes she went from shame to accepting and even appreciating her humanity.
This is the humanity the Son of God entered long ago.
Although we clean up the site of Jesus' birth in story and song, the reality is he was born in a barn of some sort. He was born to parents who had been on a long, dusty journey. And if you've ever been present at a birth, you know it's not neat and tidy. Consider those smells. You could say the site and smell of his birth was as shameful as the site and smell of his death.
As an adult, Jesus continued to enter deeply into humanity even using dirt (humus) and spit to heal. What some may consider gross he transformed into a means of grace. Maybe Jesus was telling us something about being human. You don't need to be ashamed. Shame is a lonely place, it has been from the beginning (just ask Adam & Eve or the professor sitting at the campfire!).
Jesus' own lineage, his family tree, was marked by shame--adultery, incest, prostitution and murder (as well as people who did little to make a name for themselves, good or bad)! Yet it is here, from and among the lonely, shameful places and people that Jesus was born, lived and died. What do we make of this? Clearly God is up to something. This story has something to say.
Here is a God who from the moment humanity felt shame and hid, entered in with words and care (Genesis 3). Then when they came out of hiding, offered them the hard work of love as the pathway to transformation. The Incarnation, this Word becoming flesh in Jesus, reiterates and provides an exclamation point--it's into our shame where God chooses to come and again offers transforming love.
Had she not noticed her body odor and allowed God into her shame, the professor may have missed the Holy Voice speaking words of love to her. She could have missed the Beloved leading her to accepting and appreciating her own humanity (which then overflows into accepting and appreciating the humanity of others).
Yes, Christmas is full of good smells (fresh pine, cinnamon, gingerbread, peppermint and orange) and we can certainly celebrate those. But what if we miss the message of the manger because we're overly focused on the savory?
What are the unsavory parts of the season? Where are you most experiencing shame and loneliness in your life right now? In other words, what or where are you hiding?
Perhaps if we come out of hiding and acknowlege what "stinks" we may witness anew the Christ who was born in an ancient barn and laid in a manger. Jesus is the face of God, the One who comes to us right in our humanity (especially there) with Good News, transforming our stench into an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Breathe deep!
Kasey is a scarf, ball and club juggling spiritual director just outside of Nashville, TN. Play helps her Type-A, Enneagram 1 personality relax, creating space for poetry and other words to emerge. She also likes playing with theological ideas like perichoresis, and all the ways we're invited into this Triune dance.