I’m ashamed to mention it. It’s gotten bad out there. I broke a shoulder last summer, so fall raking was out. The raspberry canes never got trimmed. The tomato cages are now filled with stalks bearing wilted leaves and the last little green orbs that were left unharvested after the hard freeze.
But that’s just the acute problem. The chronic stuff is worse. The deck has gone unstained for too many years, and now there’s a hole in it. Lattice is hanging off one side. The snow is covering the spread of creeping charlie, but it’ll be back in force come spring. And there’s the matter of the pooper scooper leaning in the corner under the kitchen window. Our dog died in June, but we never bothered to clean-up when she was alive, so the object’s uselessness is doubly apparent. Thank God for last Saturday’s blanket of snow that’s covered a multitude of sins.
This is all a verbose way of confessing these two hard facts: my back yard is in a sorry state, and I suck. At gardening. At home repair. At being a good neighbor. At being the Jones that others aspire to keep up with.
You wouldn’t know it if you motored by on North Walnut Creek Drive. I anchored the mailbox in concrete, so its post is both plumb and secure. We took down a dying pine and planted ornamental grasses and annuals in the flower bed that replaced it. And the tower of deep fuschia clematis blooms beside the front steps provides utter curb appeal at Midsommar.
I clean up nice and present a delightful front to the public, but I know the truth of things. I don’t attend AA, yet I know what it is to do a fearless and searching moral inventory. And this inventory always takes me around the side of my physical and spiritual house to the hard truth of my backyard. I can’t look at my house without the lingering shame of my suckitude.
Jesus knows about backyards. He was born in one. I know all the arguments about our misunderstanding of Luke’s milieu, and the meaning of “no room at the inn,” and what exactly “the manger where the poor baby wak’d” was. But when you have a backyard like mine (and I suspect you do), you’ll grab the picture of Jesus being born out back of the inn in your grubby mitts and refuse to unclench them. That gracious detail is the thing to savor.
The God come in the flesh, our Immanuel, showed up unprotected by the beautiful fronts we erect with our law-abiding ways and our self scrubbing with a nail brush, a bar of Lava soap, and Pilate’s bowl of water. Jesus arrives in no ivy-bedecked palace, cozy log cabin with roaring fireplaces, or many-gabled execu-manse in a gated community.
The world the Lord enters is not unsullied. He comes where the self-deception can no longer be perpetrated. God himself slides into the world, accompanied by the smell of cow flop. The manger he’s laid in is filled with what is usually the fodder for beasts. The setting for Luke 2 is the first century analog to my backyard. The stage is dressed with rust and decay, guilt and shame, sin and death.
Where else would he show up but where we can’t escape the truth and our despair over not only our strengths, talents, and ability to fix ourselves but even of our willingness to muster up the desire to do it? Where else would the Savior of the nations stake his claim but in enemy territory? Where else should the Divine One spread his largesse but on the salted soil of this benighted sphere? Where else but outback?
If Jesus doesn’t intrude on this space, there is no salvation, no hope, no Noel, or “Joy to the World.” If he doesn’t make my backyard his, there’s no clematis, however beautiful, that can disguise my dry rot and skewed foundation. But there he is, thirty-odd years later, literally still hanging out where no respectable person wants to be found. The backyard of Jerusalem is Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. And there my Lord sanctifies all my rust, wrack, and ruin — in short, my death and dying — as the place, he will erect a new Temple, a New Jerusalem, and, mercifully, a new me.
That’ll be a place to sit back and bask in his eternal light. It’ll kick my feet up, grab a tall cool one, and rejoice at his handiwork that began outback and saved me from myself. I couldn’t have done it myself. I’ve never had it in me.