Lying in a Manger – 4 Challenging Words

nativityAfter my last post, I decided to order the book “In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas” by Dan Schaeffer, as one of the devotionals I read last week quoted his book. Wow, what a good read! I’ve really been enjoying it. The past two mornings as I read, I thought “this is good stuff! Who could I tell about it?” Then this morning I remembered I started a blog! ha! So, here are some of my thoughts from what I’ve been reading.

The announcement of the birth of Christ started off exhilarating for Mary. An angelic visit, a miracle of getting pregnant by the Holy Spirit, and her time spent with her cousin Elizabeth, who also gave a prophetic word. If I were Mary, I would assume the whole journey would be just as amazing and exhilarating, and well, trouble free. But then she comes home from her visit with Elizabeth, and Joseph sees that she’s pregnant and doesn’t believe her story. This is tragic enough for him to consider ending his relationship with her. An unwed, pregnant teen in our day is a dilemma, back then it would have been even worse. I wonder if while Joseph was considering his options if Mary was asking God “what now? how are You going to provide?” I imagine this was a huge low point for Mary. Thankfully, Joseph also received an angelic vision and the journey was good again as the babe grew within her.

But then another low point, Caesar Augustus declared a census to be taken, and a VERY pregnant Mary had to make the journey with Joseph to Bethlehem. I imagine it was a very wearying travel. They arrived to a crowded Bethlehem and as Joseph knocked on the doors from inn to inn, with no room for them anywhere, I wonder how frantic each of them felt. Joseph frustrated that he is unable to provide a place to stay for his wife; Mary possibly wondering, “God, where are you? Will you take care of us? Will you provide for your Son?” Did Mary wonder if perhaps God had forgotten them? I know I wonder that when situations seems to go horribly wrong.

The journey hits a low point.

And then maybe lower as the only place one innkeeper can give them to stay is a stable. In many of today’s Nativity scenes, the picture is of a crude stable, but quaint and clean. However, I seriously doubt the busy innkeeper had time to muck the stalls for his unexpected guests. Can you imagine how smelly and gross that stable was? Eww. And cold? Not your typical warm, clean birthing room. I wonder if doubt of God’s care for them filled their minds even more as the weary travelers moved into their shelter. Not that Mary would have much time to ponder as the labor pains began. I also wonder how heartbreaking her labor was, possibly awkward… alone with Joseph to deliver the baby (a man whom she hadn’t *known* yet), no mother to hold her hand through the delivery. All in a cold, smelly cave filled with animals and their excrement as a delivery room. A manger for a crib. Really God?

Really!

While this wouldn’t have been Mary & Joseph’s first choice, or even 2nd or 3rd; it was God’s plan, and He had a very wise purpose in it.

After the baby was born, some shepherds showed up, telling their fantastic story of an angelic vision, a host of angels! And their sign: you will find him lying in a manger. With all the people (and babies) filling Bethlehem that night, this unique sign separated the Messiah from all the other babies, no other baby would be in a manger. I wonder if hearing the Shepherds’ stories encouraged their hearts once more. God knew, God saw, He hadn’t forgotten them at all! He was working behind the scenes, and used their unique (and difficult) circumstance as a sign!

“Common folks can’t visit the palaces of newborn kings uninvited (and we seldom are). But kings and princes can visit mangers, and so can bakers and weavers, wise men and shopkeepers, priests and children, cattle and sheep. This reality is so simple that it is easy to miss” (Dan Schaeffer).

Jesus lying in a manger reveals in a dramatic way that He had come to be available, accessible by everyone! When Prince William and Kate had their baby, we could only hear about it and maybe see some pictures months later. But Jesus was available to everyone the day of his birth. God humbled himself in so many ways. Even if He was born in the very best earth had to offer, it would still be humbling for Him. But He went all the way so that we would realize there was nothing God wouldn’t do to bring us into relationship with Him.

Mary and Joseph’s journey was filled with some incredible highs and intense lows. Often, when I receive a call or mission from God, and it starts off awesome, I assume He’s going to work everything out so splendidly, and well, easy for me. But His Ways are not my ways, and when things seem like a mess and God has forgotten me, He just may be working behind the scenes where I can’t see Him. He is ALWAYS working, and His messy plan (in our estimation) may be a sign this world needs, or He may be making Jesus accessible to others through our difficulties.

The author of the book suggested that as we travel this Christmas (whether on errands or to visit friends or family), notice the hospitals you pass and take a few moments to remember how and where your God was born. “When I go into a hospital maternity ward or a comfortable home nursery, I think about how bright, clean, healthy, and warm these places are… and I marvel anew that my God lay in a manger!”

May you be encouraged through the birth of Christ this Christmas.

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