we are more comfortable when you are tucked
into your designated corner — but
you were never one to stay put where you’re told.
from birth, you have been bold
about breaking right into the thick of things —
pinpointing the pulse of human happenings
and blaring through with news of God’s Kin-dom, come.
into the cliffsides outside Bethlehem
we have constructed with our word and song
a nonexistent edifice —
some banished barn along
your hometown’s outskirts where you can be born
where no one has to hear your mother’s groans;
where Joseph midwives her, untrained, alone.
meanwhile, your wet head crests
from a nest of straw built in the home’s hot heart.
your mother gasps and grasps
the hand of some old woman she just met
tight enough to knit them into kin.
just one wall over, rising from within
the side room filled with other guests who’ve come
to Bethlehem for Caesar’s census, prayers are sung
to secure your safe delivery.
we like it better when you wait for us
in remote places we can journey to
when we are ready.
we like the tale of shepherds, rich men too
who visit you forewarned what to expect
by angels or by astral signs
— but you
burst into our bustling
compel us to make room
in the chaos of the everyday —
you will not sit and wait
till we’ve tidied up the mundane mess
we never seem to get to dealing with.
you’ll write your own
invitation into our homes —
you’ll let yourself inside
draw up a chair
at our tables
the night is here
the hour is now
though we’ve got half-baked plots
and chores undone —
ready or not
here you come.
About this Poem:
I wrote this piece for episode 52 of my Blessed Are the Binary Breakers podcast: “Revisiting Nativity — Was Jesus born in a barn or house, and why does it matter?” which you can find wherever you get podcasts; or on this website, along with an ep transcript.
In the episode, I discuss how the Greek of Luke 2:7 might not say Jesus was born in a stable after all — that rather than any inns being full, the text tells us Mary gave birth in the main room of a peasant home (likely belonging to Joseph’s family), “because there was no room in the guest room.”
I argue that such a reading can be powerful from a liberationist perspective. Among other things, it claims that, rather than accepting the marginal space that is the only space that imperial powers or any “powers that be” would allow him, Jesus makes the margins the center. It’s my friend Laura who first put this idea in my head, in a podcast episode they put out last December titled “…and a Tax Collector in a Fig Tree.”
In the episode, Laura first talks about the story of Zaccheus that takes place way later in Jesus’ life, and in Luke’s Gospel: in Luke chapter 19, Jesus calls to a tax collector, who would have been spurned by the Jewish people as a collaborator with the Roman Empire, “Zaccheus, come down at once — I must stay in your home today.” That’s right, Jesus invites himself over to this guy’s house! In doing so, we see how Jesus doesn’t wait for us to invite him into our world; he bursts on in of his own accord.
Laura parallels that story with the reading of the Nativity story that sets it in a peasant home in the heart of Bethlehem — our traditions put Jesus on the outskirts, alone in a barn; but Jesus makes himself comfortable right in the midst of a crowded house. This concept inspired me to write the poem you just read.
- “Nativity Beads: A poem and an essay exploring alternative readings of the Luke 2 story“
- “Questioning Jesus’s Birth: What the Greek really says!” — deep dive into the Greek & scholarly articles, with tips on how to do this kind of research yourself