In the movie Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, there is a famous scene where Will Ferrell, as the title character, prays thusly: Dear Lord Baby Jesus, lyin’ there in your ghost manger… just lookin’ at your Baby Einstein developmental videos… learnin’ ’bout shapes and colors… It’s my favorite image for Jesus this time of year, and it comes across my mind often. In order to talk to God, I use a wide array of characters so that God seems approachable. I got the idea from the movie “Contact” when that guy from St. Elsewhere said it. I watch St. Elswhere all the time on Hulu, because between it and Hill Street Blues that was the only thing really worth watching at the time. I’ve learned all over again the world of the hospital and for advent, knowing the codes they run at birth is essential to set the scene in your mind.
I was born in Tyler, Texas in 1977 at a hospital that reflected it. Dallas was a short life-flight away, but when I first came into the world it was unsure whether I would need it. In those moments, I look at my parents like Mary after the crucifixion, because they both had to do the same thing in different situations…. go home without the baby.
But that’s not where we are in the story right now. Where we are in the story is that Mary has tried to check into a hotel, and settles for a barn so she won’t have to show her business to the hoards of people also trying to get a good night’s sleep. Life was a struggle just to stay alive. Everyone needed rest, and for Mary and Joseph, life was about to get interesting.
My mother checked into the hospital, but her labor wasn’t deemed far enough along. My mother already knew something was wrong, but she heeded the doctor’s advice because a doctor is a doctor. At the time, my dad was the pastor of a small and tight-knit church pretty far from the hospital. Luckily, she and my dad had friends to bail them out so they wouldn’t have to drive so far should the eviction notice get posted on the door and I start running cause I don’t want to pay the rent. My parents’ minister friend spent most of my stay in his living room pacing about, saying “This baby is not going to be born at my house. This baby is not going to be born at my house. This baby is not going to be born at my house……….”
Both Jesus and I struggled as babies to fight for our lives. He was born in a stable without antibiotics or sterile instruments should someone have had to scream “FLK” and push Joseph out of the way to go wait under a tree, because shit got real. Literally. If you picture a baby being born in a manger, the image will shock you because you’ve never pondered it. I’m guessing you’ve never stood inside it and smelled the hay mixed with manure mixed with human blood, sweat, and tears. You haven’t considered the horror of the situation when you think about who exactly was being born. The hard truth in the story is that it was the Messiah in plain sight but the Innkeeper nearly killed him. If you really want to hear a miracle in Jesus’ birth, look at the fact that he was born two inches from cow manure and lived to tell about it. The resurrection in the middle of that garbage dump of a situation is that it turned him from a regular dude into The Boy Who Lived.
I was one of the children born to this world that had a doctor perceptive enough to call FLK because I was in trouble. For those not in the know, it’s a signal to run the codes for an infant in trouble (Funny Lookin’ Kid) without shocking the hell out of the parents. I can’t picture the situation fully, but what I know is that no one was expecting me to be born, either. I don’t mean that my prognosis was low. I meant that it was unusual for my mother to need to deliver me eight weeks early. I had a pneumothorax because my lungs were not developed enough not to damage me in a little thing called breathing. I was oxygen-deprived for a short time, and it created a palsy in my brain. As I have said before, it did not delay me mentally, but I am tremendously uncoordinated. I like typing because no one has to watch me run. If Jesus is The Boy Who Lived despite tremendous odds, then I’m definitely a candidate for The Girl. My whole life I’ve been treated like Special Ed because of the way I move. People rarely stop long enough to know how I think. They’re starting to as I’ve achieved writing fame, but before then, I think that people thought they needed to coddle me because I didn’t move right. I still don’t. I’m terrible at balance and I always will be. I will always walk into doors, and people will always be nice to me the longer my eyes accidentally stay crossed….. until finally they get annoyed enough to say something and it always shocks me because I’ve known I’ve had this problem since birth. I’m sorry you can’t get used to it.
Jesus was an unusual kid. He could argue in the temple at 12. He must have been amazing, because I think that it was Jesus’ King of the Hill moment. You know the episode where they think Bobby is the reincarnated Dali Lama? People started saying that he was anointed with the gift to interpret God’s word at an impossibly young age…. I mean, they had to’ve. Otherwise, why would someone have bothered to write it down?
Last week we talked about John the Baptist preaching as the preview to the movie. Christine, my priest, said she likes that image and it always feels good to get a thumbs up from a professional.
This week’s gospel has gone from WHAT John the Baptist represents and what he did to express it. This week, we turn inward to look at the WAY he did it.
John’s testimony in front of the priests and Levites from Jerusalem when they asked who he was boldly proclaims that even though he is a minister, he is not crazy enough to believe that he has been the one chosen to redeem the world. John the Baptist says, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” In the face of incredible pressure, John the Baptist stood his ground. He’s not The One. He’ll just know him when he sees him, and he had enough courage to say it out loud. When you say it out loud, it makes it real.
It’s John’s courage that makes me love him the most. John the Baptist had the courage to tell the Jewish world that the one they were waiting for was real, but it wasn’t him.
It’s not me, either.
John couldn’t believe in the baby, because just like the people in his hometown, how was he to know that his cousin was the one he’d been preaching about all along? It is like meeting The Doctor, but only getting to know him as John Smith. John the Baptist was one of the people in Nazareth that didn’t recognize him… but not out of malice. It was his pleasure to preach the gospel of resurrection and promise for the Jewish people of the time.
As I said last week, John didn’t know who he was looking for, but we do. Paul is further along in the story than John the Baptist, and has met the risen Christ that John the Baptist could not. In his letter to the Thessalonians, another of our readings in the Lectionary, Paul says plainly that the risen Christ will sanctify you entirely if you will just believe what he and the prophets have to say, because he’s been through his own resurrection and IT WORKED. Can you not see the light of Christ in Paul, who completely surrendered to God’s will when he realized he needed it? Sometimes it takes that much.
Last week I brought up the point that not believing yourself or others until you’re crippled with emotion lets life pass you by at an alarming rate because you can’t react fast enough when you’re laden with emotional burden. I speak from experience.
My resurrection was when people asked if I was abused as a child, I knew the answer instead of “some stuff happened and I’m not sure.” It was a Saul to Paul conversion because I didn’t believe that she had until I was so crippled with grief and shame that it was causing blindness all over the place. Blindness to everything in my entire life because I couldn’t let my house of cards fall.
But someone is coming that is greater than me. Someone I’ve waited for all my life, and didn’t believe quick enough. Let go of those emotions that stop you from being ready to watch and wait. It doesn’t matter WHAT you get out of the experience. It matters how you ready yourself to receive it.
John spiritually enriched the lives of others while he was waiting.
It’s up to us to decide what we do. Maybe our job is to cross the finish line. Maybe our job is to propel someone else. In a perfect world, it’s a rolling hierarchy of both.
Shake……………………………………. and bake.