“There will be a stench.” John 11:39
Yep, that’s a cow patty! After putting endearing photos of the cutest little babies you ever saw in my last post, I am now going with a cow patty.
But there is more. That is a Christmas cow patty! I don’t mean that it was left by a Christmas cow or by Rudolph the Rednosed Reincow or anything like that. I mean that it is included to illustrate something important about the Christmas story.
Stay with me here. Let’s remember that Jesus was not born in a manger, although I have probably erroneously said that he was countless times. After he was born, Jesus was placed in a manger — a trough used to feed the animals. Jesus was born in a stable.
If you have ever been in a stable, there is something universally true about all of them — they stink. They smell like horse and cow poo. They all do. And I am guessing that although stables and barns may have changed a lot in the last 2000 years, the essential characteristics of cow dung have remained constant. In other words, I am pretty certain that the barn Jesus was born in smelled a lot like the barns you and I have been in.
I think that smell can help us grasp the profound condescension that is the Incarnation– the donning of humanity by the eternal God. When we consider the humility of God demonstrated by his coming to be born in a stable, I think it is helpful to breathe in the unmistakable odor that filled the place of his birth. It reminds us of the great gap between the heights which Jesus left and the depths to which he came.
But I think there is still a little more that can be said about that odor. Jesus may have been born into a stinky world, but we weren’t. God created a world in which everything was good and clean and pure. The point isn’t just that the world stinks, it is that we stink. The stench is our fault. It comes from us. We are the ones responsible for this stinking mess. It is our sin that has saturated everything with the smell of corruption, decay and death. But praise be to God! Jesus came to conquer sin and death!
Jesus had a friend, Lazarus, who had been dead for four days. When Jesus directed that Lazarus’ tomb be opened, he was told, “There will be a stench.” The Scripture does not say for sure, but I have to presume that when the stone was rolled from Lazarus’ tomb, there was an awful, awful stench. But the same Jesus who was born in a stinky stable in a stinky town in a stinky world filled with stinky people stood before an awfully stinky tomb and commanded that there should be life. And just as there was light on that first day when he said “Let there be light”, there was life that day when he commanded there to be life.
This Christmas, let’s give thanks to the God who was inexplicably willing to come into our stinky mess!