Context is Everything by Nadia Nelson
Many things bring me joy at Christmas time. One of them is yelling “Ass” in church.
This probably sounds strange coming from me, but it’s true! Let me back up.
I come from a conservative family. I love my family. I have two little sisters. Annika and Nicole. As the oldest, it’s my duty–my mission in life–to make my sisters uncomfortable. It’s hard to make Annika uncomfortable. She wants to be a gynecologist. She’s sixteen and super liberal. Think Leslie Knope with gloves. Nicole is twenty and uber conservative. Her role-models are the Duggers. Well, they used to be her rolemodels. They stopped having kids.
I love my sisters. We’re pretty close. Like most families, we have our things—inside jokes, yelling across the house at each other, etc. One of our main things is singing. We are always singing. Now that I’m in college and we live on opposite sides of the country, Christmas is the only time we’re all together. So we sing Christmas carols. We used to go caroling around my neighborhood, which is fun—except when it’s not because you haven’t eaten dinner; and it’s late; and your family is annoying; and your guitar is out of tune; and everyone is singing in their own key; and you’re pretty sure the person your singing to kicks puppies for fun, and you want to leave but your dad insists on singing all verses of We Wish You a Merry Christmas–and what the heck is figgy pudding? Other than that, it’s great!
There are so many Christmas songs: songs about babies, songs about shoes, songs about creepy men climbing through chimneys, songs about flirting with creepy men climbing through chimneys. I don’t know why that’s a thing, but there are so many of them! Songs. So many songs. Not so many people flirting with creepy men climbing through chimneys. I think Mariah Carry can do that all by herself. Oh, wait, no, she was flirting with Justin Bieber in a grocery store. Don’t know why that’s a thing either.
Anyway, there are so many Christmas songs because people have been writing Christmas songs for a long time! And I’m talking a really long time. Since the time of Adam and Eve people have been writing Christmas songs. My church growing up enjoyed the super old Christmas songs. You know, in ye olde English. Because the King James Version is the only inspired version of Christmas songs. “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” “Away in Thine Manger.” “Rocking around Yon Christmas Tree.”
In ye olde English, there are some bad words that it’s okay to say–in the right context. As my mom says, “Context is everything.” I realize I took that out of context, but I feel like that quote applies to this moment, so it’s justified. Context is everything. I learned this from Shakespeare. Bastard just means ‘illegitimate’. As long as it’s legitimate that someone is illegitimate, you can say bastard. It’s legit. Bastard. Damn means ‘send to hell’. God damned Satan. Satan is damned. Demons are damned. Hell, damn it. Catching on? Now we can put these two concepts together. We were damn bastards of God, but thanks be to Jesus for taking our damn sin and adopting us into his bastard family. Biblical! Context! My sister Annika and I make these jokes all the time. We find them hilarious. And, it’s one of the main ways I make my conservative, Dugger-loving sister Nicole uncomfortable. Annika and I are laughing, and she’s huddled in the corner, covering her ears, loudly reciting “LET NO UNWHOLESOME TALK COME OUT OF YOUR MOUTH!!”
Annika’s like, “Unwholesome? What, the redemption of Jesus is unwholesome? I can’t talk about Jesus?”
And they make faces at each other for ten minutes. I love being home!
And then there’s ass. It’s a donkey. Ass. Jesus had an ass. Jesus had a sweet ass ride. Jesus paraded his ass through the neighborhood, and children were singing, and people were dancing, and the neighborhood was celebrating Jesus got his ass out there. Technically, he was so poor, he borrowed his ass. Don’t you just love Jesus? It’s so wholesome!
One of my favorite Bible stories is about an ass. There is a man named Balaam who was a prophet. Not a good guy or a bad guy, just a prophet. He is approached by the henchmen of a ruler named Balak who wants him to curse Israel. Like any good prophet, Balaam tells them he’ll sleep on it. He goes to sleep. He has this crazy dream where God tells him not to curse Israel. He wakes up and tells Balaks henchmen, “Sorry dudes, I can’t curse Israel.” Then they start to name bribes. They will literally give him whatever he wants. Tempting. God said no at first, but now there’s a bribe. This could change things. Because, as every prophet knows, bribing God totally works. He decides to sleep on it again. Strangely, he has a dream where God tells him it’s okay to go with the henchmen back to Balak as long as he obeys God’s instructions. Huh. How convenient!
When Balaam wakes up, he gets up on his ass—there’s the ass!—and rides with the henchmen to Balak. They’re riding along, when, suddenly, his animal runs off into a ditch. Balaam is frustrated. He gets off his lazy ass and gets his ass back on track. He continues on his sorry ass until he’s traveling on a narrow path in a vineyard. There is a fence on either side. The ass rides so close to the fence that it crushes Balaam’s foot! He doesn’t know why his ass is acting up, so he beats his ass. Then his fat ass sits down. Balaam’s like, “My ass is killing me!”
And then God reaches down into the situation and opens the ass’s mouth. And the donkey talks! It says, “Dude! Balaam! Why are you beating your own ass?”
Balaam responds, “What, so now you’re making fun of me? You better be grateful that this is just a stick and not a sword.”
His donkey is talking, and he doesn’t think that’s weird.
The ass is like, “I better be grateful? You’re the one who should be grateful! There’s a freaking angel in the path and he was going to kill you!”
God opens Balaam’s eyes, and he sees an angel with a flaming sword. Typically, when I think of angels, I either think of a muscular man in a toga with flowing hair and glowing biceps. Basically Hercules. Or, a chubby cherub baby with wings and the hair that curls up like a Dairy Queen cone. But in the Bible, angels are terrifying. Stupid terrifying. Like people fall on their faces dead kind of stupid terrifying. Like grown men poop their pants terrifying. I guess they didn’t wear pants; they wore togas. Poop their togas terrifying, which was probably more hygienic, because the poop would just fall to the ground and not get stuck to the legs. Anyway, you get the picture: terrifying.
And the angel shouts in a booming voice, “Why did you beat your ass? He was saving your ass!”
Balaam falls on his face. Poops his toga. And repents. The truth is: we only hear what people are saying when we stop worrying so much about ourselves.
The angel tells Balaam to continue on to Balak, but only do what God tells him. Balaam agrees. He gets back on his ass and rides to Balak. He stands on a mountain overlooking Israel, tries to curse them like three times, but ends up blessing them on accident and Balak goes crazy. And. anyway, it’s a great story. It’s in the Bible. You should look it up.
This is one of my favorite stories because God doesn’t do anything half-ass. It’s very full-ass. He uses a talking donkey! Almost everyone had a donkey at the time. It’s an ordinary thing, but it’s not! Balaam is so frustrated with how things aren’t going his way that he misses the miracle of it. Isn’t that life? Life is one great big anticlimactic miracle. Blink and you miss it, but it’s so big. It’s the God of the universe becoming a tiny baby, infinite power limiting itself out of love. To experience the divine, we must fully embrace our humanness. Just like the divine became human to embrace us; that’s the miracle of Christmas.
What child is this who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Who angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?
Why lie he in such mean estate, where ox and