Sweat, Mess and Prep Cooks

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.” – Matthew 1:18

Our dentist is next to Alinia, the sixth best restaurant in the world. Dinner for two can cost more than $2,000. Guests dress accordingly. The place is equal parts laboratory and cathedral. There is a dish designed to disappear before you eat it. Burnt leaves and apple vapor mix and linger in your nose as you inhale the autumns of your childhood. Up front, the restaurant gleams. It is perfect. 

But you enter the dentist from the alley. A sweaty purveyor hurries in the back door with a wet cardboard box, wild greens bulge from the leaking seams. Two dishwashers in stained aprons break down the recycling. A line cook sneaks a cigarette, the specter of the next rush in his eyes.

Restaurant professionals call this “the heart of the house.” If the heart doesn’t beat, the whole place stops. The heart heaves the garbage bag and the heart chops onions. The heart speaks Spanish. The heart works hard at humble tasks. The heart is messy, but the gleam needs it. The gleam lives on sweat, mess and prep cooks.

What about the gleaming works of God? The sunset. The distance of the stars. The depth of oceans. The elegant way your blood carries oxygen to your brain. We assume that perfection itself must have made such perfect things.

Then at Christmas we peer into the heart of God’s house. What is the manger if not the alley behind the height of mountains? In it we find an exhausted mother, an unkempt father and the word made flesh, helpless. All our gleaming beauty lives on the beating heart of God. And the beating heart of God is not perfect. It rests on straw and inhales the smell of cattle. As Rowan Williams says, “the whole system of the universe turns on the sort of love we find in a helpless child.” 


Come Lord Jesus, turn us upside down so we can see you.

ddauthormattfitzgerald.jpgAbout the Author
Matt Fitzgerald is the Senior Pastor of St. Pauls United Church of Christ in Chicago. He is the host of “Preachers on Preaching,” a weekly podcast sponsored by The Christian Century.