"Human beings are nasty, dirty animals I wouldn't keep as pets."
This was the opinion I heard uttered years ago by a person I love deeply. It was said at a time when she was retelling her own spiritual journey. She said it, looking back on days when that was how she felt about her fellow men and women. It was not how she felt now.
I'd like to meditate on this dour pronouncement a little, though. It does bear a lot of truth.
Any reading of history will come across plenty of incidents where this has been true. Nations war against nation, stacking up huge piles of death and destruction. One man will war against his neighbor, demeaning and dehumanizing the other. Large scale and small, we are nasty, brutish, unfeeling, unthinking, uncaring, unloving, unlovable. This has been a constant thread in the story of the human race.
But yet, we are also giving, caring, loving, loyal, faithful. We rise to great heights, even as we sink to great depths.
We are wretched, warring within ourselves in our brokenness and our transcendence.
And into our midst two thousand years ago came G-d.
Into the stink of our world came a Person. He came not in a sky-splitting revelation, not in a cosmic light show. No, he came in the form of a baby. He was born, the story recounts, in a stable, perhaps even less than that. He was laid in a feed trough, and viewed by shepherds and other common folk.
Now, have you ever been in a livestock barn? Do you know what cow manure smells like? Old cow manure? How about goats, or sheep? Or their dung? Imagine the miasma of urine and dung in that same space, aging and releasing fragrances that are not floral or woodsy.
How about sweat? Or bad breath? Or flatulence?
Jesus came into this world as a man, even as he entered it as G-d. He undoubtedly had sweat stains under his arms. He undoubtedly had days when his breath was not minty-fresh. He had calluses, blisters, and split knuckles from his years as a carpenter.
Jesus lived his life among people who were in the backwaters of a backwater part of the Roman Empire. He spent the first thirty years of his life among these people, living life day by day as they lived it, eating the same food, sweating from the same chores, using the same latrines they did.
He had three years of ministry, going around that same backwater province, telling anyone who would listen, and plenty of folks who would rather not, that the Kingdom of Heaven was in their midst. Some heard what he said and it changed their lives. Many ignored what he said, and lived their lives as they had before.
Ultimately, he offended too many people. The rich, the powerful, those with something to protect, conspired and found a way to remove him from their midst. Using the power that was Rome, they had him tried, judged, condemned, and executed by the Roman governor. And that governor didn't do it with any enthusiasm. He had other priorities, and dealing with a local preacher wasn't high on that list.
Jesus died as he had lived. He was nailed up like a piece of barn siding, nails driven through hands and feet, and yet he still blessed those who were killing him. He forgave the very thing that was stealing his life. He bled, sweating and breathing through tortured lungs, and finally he said, "It's finished!"
Jesus was a man of sweat, spit, flesh and blood, with all the weaknesses that we try to hide each day. He was mortal - the Romans saw that themselves. And yet, he came back. The nasty, dirty animals couldn't kill him.
I think about the guy in the stands at every football game, holding up his JOHN 3:16 sign. "For G-d so loved the world, that He sent His only Son, that whoever believed in Him might not die, but live forever in the presence of the Father." That lone man, in his rainbow fright wig, is holding up a message that we ignore at our peril.
We are nasty, dirty animals. G-d wants to change that. He doesn't want us as pets. He wants us as companions. He wants us in His Kingdom. That Kingdom is made real, on this Earth, in our time. It comes one person at a time, one life lived differently at a time. We can live in it now, and we will live in it more fully realized, in days to come.
As the holy season of Advent comes closer, we prepare to celebrate the coming of Jesus into the world once again. Even as we deal with the daily mess, we think about the thing that will ultimately remove the mess. May our meditations on this be deep this year, fragrant and filling.