A few days before Christmas two years ago I was standing in a grocery store check-out line when the customer in front of me asked the clerk if she had any Christmas stamps. The conversation went like so:
Customer: “Do you have Christmas stamps?”
Clerk: “No. We just have Liberty Bell and some lady holding a baby.”
Customer: “Can I see them? That’s Mary holding Jesus. I’ll take those.”
Clerk: “How did they get a picture of them?”
Customer looks back at me to hide laughing, so I chime in, “I bet it’s someone’s interpretation of what they may have looked like.”
Clerk: “Maybe. ‘Cause I don’t think anyone took pictures back then.”
The customer went on about her purchase and the customer behind me and I pretended to look at magazines in attempt to snuff our laughter. As the clerk scanned my items she kept going back to “some lady holding a baby” and said she sold those stamps for weeks and never knew it was Mary and Jesus. I put on my best game face and attempted to converse with her. I even managed to say, with a straight face, “It could happen to anyone.” As I retrieved my bags, I couldn’t help but wish her “Merry Christmas” as I walked away. She responded, “Hey, you too!”
I posted the conversation on Facebook that evening and many colleagues informed me they used it in their Christmas Eve/Day homilies. I included it in mine, too, because I love the authenticity of her words. I smile every time I receive a Christmas card with a “some lady holding a baby” stamp and am grateful it’s forever in my memory. For too often, as Christians on this side of the story, we forget how ordinary the whole scene was. Mary and Joseph were teenagers. Away from home. To all who journeyed to Bethlehem to pay taxes, they were another young couple and another set of numbers. Perhaps someone noticed them along the way and asked Mary when she was due. Perhaps the Innkeeper felt terrible and wished them well as he turned them away. Perhaps Joseph went in search of the perfect pregnancy craving driven meal.
A teenage girl gave birth to a healthy son and her fiancé named him Jesus, just as the angel had instructed. Yet unlike our modern-day nativity scenes, pageants, and movies suggest, the wise men weren’t there yet. The shepherds weren’t there right away, either. There was no waiting room full of anxious grandparents, aunts, and uncles. There were no nurses and OBGYNs at the fancy birthing center per the carefully crafted birth plan. In the beginning there was the fresh, messy flesh and blood of salvation placed in the arms of his exhausted, sweaty, and glowing brand new mother. The night the Word became Flesh was indeed as miraculously ordinary as some lady holding a baby.
My hope is that we never grow tired of paying attention to the miraculously ordinary. I hope our mortal flesh will not keep silent when we hear the cries of some lady holding a baby from a dark cave in a bustling city. I hope we inhale the peace of fresh new life every time we hold an infant. I hope our souls are reminded of their worth when we reverently kneel by the manger to gaze upon hope personified.
Christmas promises that God will again invade the finite world with infinite light. Joy to the world!