“Jesus Slept Here”: Christmas Thoughts 2007

24 Dec

The other day Melissa and I visited Coptic Cairo, where many of the city’s historic Christian churches are. You always think of either the pharaohs or Islam in connection with Egypt, but for hundreds of years Egypt was a major center of Christianity, with the gospel first brought here by St. Mark, and Coptic Cairo is where many of the city’s Christians still live. The neighborhood is home to a number of beautiful Orthodox churches, many of which feature paintings or icons showing Joseph, Mary, and Jesus walking along or sailing in the Nile, with the pyramids in the background.
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One of the churches we visited, St. Sergius, was built over the Crypt of the Holy Family, where according to tradition they stayed during their sojourn in Egypt after fleeing Herod’s slaughter of the children.
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Melissa is somewhat more skeptical than I am about claims like this, largely because there are at least a half dozen sites throughout the city that purport to be where the Holy Family did this or that, and of course there’s no reliable historical documentation that can prove any of it. (We don’t even know for sure that the Holy Family came to Cairo, which at the time was little more than an outpost on the edge of the Roman Empire, or whether they would have stayed in the major port city of Alexandria in northern Egypt.)

Maybe graduate school beat out of me some of my attachment to “objective truth,” or maybe it stems from a romantic notion that there is some kernel of truth in folk wisdom and legends, or maybe I’m just more gullible by nature. But when we were at the stairs leading down to the Crypt (you can’t actually go down there, seemingly because of water damage, although all the signs were in Greek and Arabic, neither of which helped us much), there was a father and his small daughter who, as they left, kissed the icons and rubbed their faces in a tapestry depicting the Virgin Mary. The girl left a little note, presumably for Jesus, on the stairs. They beamed as they walked away, and for me that was all the evidence I needed that Jesus did in fact sleep there.

Probably because we are awaiting the advent of our own firstborn (not that I think our son will turn out to be the Messiah, although with two doting grandmothers paying homage in his first month I won’t be surprised if he develops a messiah complex), I’ve been thinking a lot about what Catholics and many Protestants call the Incarnation, or what the Book of Mormon calls the condescension of God: the miracle that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

Ours is a God who chose to come to earth as the weakest and most vulnerable and fragile and dependent of all beings – a baby. He came to poor parents whose greatest possessions were their faith, purity, and integrity. He was considered an illegitimate child conceived out of wedlock. His parents were forced to flee their country, becoming refugees seeking political asylum in a foreign land; legend states that they were forced to use the gifts they received from the wise men to finance their journey. He was raised as part of a colonized people in what was considered a rural backwater of a great empire. His ministry was to the poor, the lame, the blind, the deaf, prostitutes, tax collectors, and foreigners. His associations with the rich and powerful were generally either to condemn them or to receive ridicule from them. He was convicted as a criminal and was killed alongside other criminals. As far as we know, He owned no property and left no estate.

This is the God we worship, and whose birth we celebrate this season. All gods, from Baal to Zeus, were supposed to be supernaturally strong – that is what made them gods. What makes our God so remarkable, so worthy of worship and devotion and love and discipleship, is that He was willing to become weak so that He could meet us in our weakness and then lift us up to God even as He was lifted up on the cross. It seems to me that the only god who can save a fallen world, and fallen individuals, is the God who, like the Good Samaritan, condescends to have compassion on us, bind up our wounds, and take care of us (Luke 10:30-35).

The Crypt under St. Sergius’s church is made holy by the presence of Christ. Similarly, our lives become holy when we allow Christ to live inside of us, to be “formed” in us, as Paul said (Galatians 4:19). So this year at Christmas, I celebrate not only the historic birth of Jesus some two thousand years ago, but my hope is for a kind of continuing Christmas, in which Christ will be born, and re-born, in my life. I can think of no greater honor for a person, as well as a church, than to be able to say, “Jesus slept here.”

Wishing you all a peace-filled and joyous Christmas.

Patrick & Melissa

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8 Responses to ““Jesus Slept Here”: Christmas Thoughts 2007”

  1. mom December 25, 2007 at 1:38 am #

    Well said Patrick. You are on our minds and in our hearts. Merry Christmas and God keep you safe.
    Javier, Luisa, Javy

  2. Nancy December 25, 2007 at 9:46 am #

    Way off topic…but I love how they hyphenated “church.”

    Merry Christmas!

  3. Kay December 25, 2007 at 9:05 pm #

    Beautifully written. Thank you for reminding us that we can have the Christmas Spirit always!

  4. Patrick December 26, 2007 at 12:00 am #

    Nancy, incidentally, we had your (actually, Andrew’s) grandparents over for Christmas Eve dinner last night. It’s a small world after all!

  5. tracy m December 26, 2007 at 6:31 am #

    This is the first post I’ve read this Christmas that brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  6. John Turner December 26, 2007 at 4:38 pm #

    No evangelical could have said it better!

  7. Nancy December 27, 2007 at 8:05 am #

    I’m glad that you had our grandparents for dinner! It’s nice to have some family activities over the holidays even if it’s not your own family!

  8. Aunt Yvette December 31, 2007 at 6:12 pm #

    Give us an update on the delivery date and have you been to the doctor lately?

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