Would we recognize Jesus? Years ago I wrote a dramatic monologue about Jesus’ birth in a small South Carolina town. I used actual places in the community as the setting. I used the Starlite Motel and its back garage as the stable; the shepherds were pulp wood workers making their way to the forest; the Magi were NASA scientists who had been tracking the unusual astronomical phenomenon to this town’s exact location. Smack dab in the middle, halfway between the beginning of US 1 in Florida and the end of US 1 in Maine, is Cheraw, SC and I was the night manager at the Starlite. It also helped that the real-life Oasis pub was conveniently located a block or so from the motel and had its share of potential witnesses to the event – all of whom were on the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. The couple that needed a place to stay was more like the pulpwooders and the stragglers from the Oasis than the wise folks from NASA.
I thought the parallels were pretty convincing, and I certainly looked the part, unshaven, unkempt, and a lot less than spiffy. The folks at church who didn’t recognize me looked askance! I was a poor third-shift part-time worker who just happened to be an eyewitness to Jesus’ coming, but I didn’t look so good. I looked out of place!
Those who recognize Jesus will need to see him in every face they see. They will honor everyone whether they look the part or not. Therefore, I am firmly convinced that our readiness and ability to recognize Jesus’ coming is in how well we see him in those around us. Who lives up to our standards, and fits in with our Christmas plans, and makes it on our holiday gift list?
Think about church life and Christians and the notion of who’s in and who’s out in the way we do things and interact with society. Somehow our pets along the way have preached a sermon to me about this very subject. Cindy and I aren’t animal lovers per se. We have had pets through the years for the children’s sake more than ours. Names like Taffy, Shoelace, Snuggles, Brio, and, of course, Pug come to mind. When we lived in the country around Lydia, SC we would take these walks down along the swamp and back up the railroad grade with our vigilant squirrel chasers clearing the path. Those days were magical in many ways. And Narcie still has Pug, a Cheraw Christmas gift who dearly loves her.
Occasionally strange dogs which really weren’t strange would come by our fenced in backyards. They belonged to unknown somebodies. At first there would always be a terrible racket. Our dog(s) would be inside the fence barking up a storm at the outside dog. I figured the best thing to do would be to let the dog into the gate so the owner could come by and pick it up. If it went down by the railroad or up the road or street who knows what might happen.
When the dogs were in the backyard together the barking always stopped. They sniffed each other out, checking one another, and then proceeded to ignore each other altogether. In the words of my late father-in-law, “They were establishing the pecking order.” That’s what dogs and people do. It’s not a best case scenario, but the status quo rules at least until meal time when the growling over first place at the dinner table kicks in.
Churches are notorious for this same kind of behavior. The ones on the outside of the church walls never bark, but the ones inside bark like crazy at those who aren’t insiders like them. When they do happen to come inside they’re ignored until a pecking order has been established with them on the bottom. Wouldn’t it be nice if we would stop acting like dogs and offer one another more than a sniff and a handshake at church? Wouldn’t it be nice if we, like Jesus, turned the pecking order on its head and saw everyone as better than ourselves – especially the poor?
He came to “poor orn’ry creatures like you and like I, says the old Appalachian folk song. There’s no pecking order at the manger! Let’s quit acting like dogs before the church really goes to the dogs!