The gift of Christmas--broken, for you.
Poinsettia poised on one arm, and bags of Christmas grocery items hanging off the other (butter, butter, and more butter), I was inching my way towards New Gate and then home late yesterday afternoon. I had managed several “Kul sane wa intou salmeen!” (Merry Christmas, y’all!) greetings with friends along the way through the Old City, although without the customary handshakes and kisses and coffees. Everyone could see I was loaded down—and on a mission—so the Arab hospitality customs would need to wait for another day.
Classes were out at the Freres School by the time I passed, so kids were everywhere in the street. I held my bags of butter a bit tighter, and cradled the poinsettia a bit closer to my body, to avoid being knocked over in the end-of-school Christmas crush.
I was shouting out another “Kul sane wa….” to a shopkeeper when a little boy, no more than six years old, approached me. He wordlessly held up to my face a broken green Christmas tree ornament—apparently not noticing the precarious piles I was balancing already. I gave him a look of desperation (“What do you want me to do with this?”) and then put the bags and the butter and the poinsettia on the ground. He held the little green thing out to me again and I took it.
It was broken. Quite. The side was cracked. It was apparently once shaped like a bell. The top, where a hook might go so it could actually be used as a tree ornament, was completely missing. My two-second judgment was that this kid, seeing a responsible-looking adult, was picking up trash from the street and being helpful. It reminded me of what my own kids used to do when finding something weird on a walk to the park. “Here, Mom—I picked this up, and now I don’t know what to do with it. So you take it.”
I looked back at the boy and smiled. “Harbani!” I said to him. It’s broken.
As soon as I said it, I knew I had miscalculated. The boy looked at the cracked green bell in my hand, and then back at me. He still said nothing, but his body language needed no translation—hands, shoulders, deep brown eyes all said “But…it’s for you.”
This was a gift, for me. Broken, but for me.
Before I had a chance to make amends, he was off, running down the street toward the other boys. I quickly held up my gift and yelled to him, “Shukran! Kul sane wa inta salam!” Thank you! Merry Christmas!
He stopped and swung around to look at me. A huge smiled flashed across his face as he shouted, “Wa inti salme!” And also for you! And then he was off in a flurry of after-school joy.
I’m not preaching for Christmas Eve in Bethlehem this year, but if I were, this is the story I would tell.
In our nativity scenes and on our Christmas cards, Mary always looks serene. Joseph has everything under control. The stable has apparently just been cleaned. And the baby Jesus—well, no crying he makes! All is calm, all is bright.
But the scandal of the incarnation is that the Messiah didn’t come as a king, or a celebrity, or the perfect specimen of human. Jesus came as a real baby, in a real body. A body that was broken, for us.
For me, this means that today we experience Emmanuel, God with Us, through the beautiful AND the broken things—and perhaps especially amidst the beautifully broken things—of the world. God is not bound to the realm of the heavenly and the perfect. God came among us through Jesus—born under occupation, laid to rest in a manger, worshiped by shepherds, hunted by a king, rejected by religious authorities, surrounded by sinners and outcasts. Arrested. Beaten. Crucified.
A beautiful gift for the whole world.
Broken, for us.
From the Holy City of Jerusalem, I wish you all peace, joy, and love through Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem, the Prince of Peace, the light shining in the darkness of this broken world.
Merry Christmas! Kul sane wa intou salmeen!