Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Garbageman’s Christmas Tale

On a bitter-cold Thursday afternoon near Christmastime last year, I pulled up to a stop in Roseville; a modest rambler with a yard full of Christmas lights and figurines (aka "gaak"). I was training in my friend Mark, another underemployed Lutheran pastor who, like me, thought there was something oddly fitting about “men of the cloth” hauling trash.

I flipped the lid on that first can of the wintery morning, and looking back at us was the cherubic face of a plastic figure of the baby Jesus. Mark and I looked at each other and broke into laughter, wondering at the odds that the first stop together of two pastors in a garbage truck would involve Jesus in the trash. We also mused at what moved people to throw it out: Was it broken? Light no longer worked? Faded from exposure? Or just time for a new cresh…perhaps one where Jesus does not have pale skin and blue eyes?

Anyway, I showed Mark how to tip the can with the hydraulic lift and we moved on. By the end of the day we had all but forgotten about baby Jesus until we got to the dump. Because first in is last out, the last item to fall atop the pile of garbage we had collected that day was the figurine of Jesus, only now smeared with the garbage in which he had been compressed.

I simply had to snap the picture. And, like so many of the images that present themselves in trash, this got me thinking. I thought about the extent to which it is a startling image of our disposable culture. Use it and toss it, the turning of natural resources into mountains of trash, but also the way in which people, workers, are increasingly viewed as disposable. This Jesus was disposable too. Is not that the way the story goes in the Gospel as well? He is disposed of at Golgatha, the site where it is said garbage from the city was tossed.

But it is Christmas, and not time to contemplate such unpleasantness, right? A time for hearth and home, warm welcome and good cheer, tidings of comfort and joy, except…

The story is that Jesus was born into poverty and dirt, his family was homeless that cold night. They took shelter in a stable, most likely a dank cave full of animals and manure. From birth to death, the Gospels speak of Jesus as a person of lowly means and estate who lived with the “unwashed” and the out-cast, whom the powerful refused... and treated as refuse.

The more I think of it, the more “The Little Lord Jesus Asleep in the Dump,” as my daughter gleefully sang when she saw the picture, is a truer and more powerful image to contemplate at Christmas than the shiny, happy, pretty ones we would rather imagine and place in our yards.


  1. john - thank you for your blogging. I enjoy reading your posts and your reflections.

    At my internship site, they use wafers for communion. I asked my supervisor about that once and he said (mostly jokingly) that he didn't like having the "crumbly Jesus" Jesus you get with real bread. That got me thinking about how we prefer a cleaned up, sanitized Christianity. One that will not get the floor dirty, or where we have to get the vacuum out, and heaven forbid that we have to pick up the pieces of our faith every once and a while. I now serve two congregations in eastern Washington state, and I was delighted that they both serve a "crumbly Jesus" at communion. You are right. There is something true and powerful about the "little Lord Jesus Asleep in the Dump."

    Phil Misner

  2. John, I have just finished reading through all of these blog articles. Your writing shimmers with much needed observations and reflections. I hope you will continue to write and share your thoughts here. It is a gift to have someone with such a fine mind share their thoughts. Merry Christmas and a peace-filled New Year. -Amy

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