There’s a pig in our nativity.
My makeshift Christmas scene is made from plastic animal figurines bought from the local toyshop. They sit on the mantelpiece beneath a glass cloche with a hessian star hanging from the top – an idea from one of those home-decorating mags. Jesus is a little piece of rolled-up cheesecloth sitting atop half a bird’s nest.
Porky is the latest addition.
I was hesitant at first. My son proffered the little pink fella and I instinctively knew it to be very un-PC. I mean, Jesus was a Jew and in the Jewish tradition, pigs are considered ‘unclean’. There’s no way that Mary and Joseph would have ok-ed a piggy-wiggy at Jesus’ cradle-side, even if it was just a feeding trough.
Donkeys, ducks, goats, turkeys, cats and alpacas? Sure.
But pigs? No room at the Inn, and certainly no room at the stable.
So why did I allow this bit of bacon a place in my nativity, you ask?
Aside from the fact that it’s a very cute little piggy-wiggy, I was reminded that Jesus shared his message with anyone who would listen.
Everything about Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection stripped away the barriers to God. He was born in poverty to a girl out of wedlock. He mixed with society’s misfits and outcasts; the tax-collectors, sex workers and people with contagious illnesses.
He took God to the people – sharing God’s character in lounge rooms, at dining tables, in big groups and small, ministering to people’s needs right where they were instead of in the temple courts, with sacrifices and ceremony.
His approach was humble and understated even though his message was earth-shatteringly mighty. He was a king who preferred to hang out with the servants, a man who looked straight through a person’s veneer to their heart.
Even as he was born in that Bethlehem cow shed, the stench of dung and hay thick in the air, angels nearby were declaring:
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11, emphasis mine)
The joy of Jesus is for every single one of us. What is that joy? The joy of freedom from the binds of mortality. The world shackles us to things like debt, worry, guilt, unforgiveness, wealth and addiction, to name a few. When Jesus takes up residence in the heart, there’s no room to serve those other masters. The world is just a thing we pass through to a greater reality.
As Jesus said himself:
“Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
God has willingly adopted pigs as his sons and daughters.
However filthy our past, whatever muck still clings to us and no matter how uncouth our habits, His arms are open and inviting. He loves us, even with the stench of our grimy hearts. He’s willing to take us in and give us a fresh start grounded in the promise of hope eternal.
If that isn’t the best Christmas gift on earth, I don’t know what is!
And that, dear friends, is why there is a pig in our nativity scene this Christmas – and every one from here onwards.
A reminder that God’s joy is for “all the people”, pigs included.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday December 21, 2015.