We join them in giving thanks for this priceless gift, and in response to that (and possibly also to the mania at the mall), give gifts to our loved ones in return. And we celebrate Christmas…
Yet in the flurry of trees, lights, ornaments, Christmas carols, shopping bags, delicious but calorie-laden holiday treats, Advent candles, and the “countdown to Christmas” that seems to speed up every year, we may gaze at the Nativity in another kind of wonder, questioning how this idyllic scene fits in the midst of personal pain, loss, grief, and the darkness, evil, and despair that exist in the world around us, and sometimes, admittedly, even in our own hearts.
Is there room for both? Can beauty, gratitude, hope, and joy co-exist with intense loss, fear, anger, and serious questions about the meaning and purpose of it all?
Let’s look again…Who are these figures clustered around the newborn Son of God?
There’s Mary, a teenage girl, promised to be married to carpenter Joseph. In a beautiful encounter with a heavenly messenger, Mary had been told she would bear a son who would fulfill promises given to her people centuries before.
Her response? She was “confused and disturbed…”
Yet she praised God and stepped out in joyful obedience.
We’re told she “pondered all these things in her heart…”
As she sat beside that manger bed, what was she pondering? If she was like us, and I suspect she was, she was likely wondering how the Promised One could possibly co-exist alongside the following:
- A 400-year silence while God’s people wondered whether the One who created the universe and held all things in His hand still saw, heard, cared, planned, and provided.
- Shame and condemnation for a mother who was pregnant out of wedlock, a declared sin punishable by public death by stoning. What had people said to her when they saw her bulging belly? What tapes were playing in her head as she remembered the months leading up to this moment? How many of them seemed to “fit” with the singing telegram that had been delivered straight from Heaven just a short time before?
- A Jewish world under Roman rule and oppression, leading to a 97-mile journey to sign up to pay taxes, on the back of a donkey, while nine months pregnant, accompanied by a fiancé who neglected to make hotel reservations, and ending with the echoing phrase, “No room at the inn…” Was Joseph the only Father who forgot to reserve a room for this long-awaited occasion of the birth of a king?
- A barn with allergy-inducing hay, nostril-offending manure, eardrum-splitting moos, neighs, baas, clucks, cock-a-doodle-doos, and newborn baby screams…a far cry from the beautiful, clean, quiet, perfect Nativity sitting on a shelf in the comfort of our living room.
- Her first visitors, a rag-tag team of socially outcast shepherds who have just experienced the most terrifying night of their lives. Like the stable around them, they have not cleaned up their clothing, hair, sandals, or likely their language, as they stomp into the presence of the newborn baby king. Oh, and have you ever actually seen a snow-white sheep? No hand-sanitizer was passed around as the baby’s first company gathered noisily around the animal feeding trough that housed the infant wrapped in rags, loudly talking over each other as they shared news of the company of angels that had filled the dark sky while they were out fending off lions and bandits, tending their flocks that night.
- The “wise guys with gifts…” Their journey to follow a star whose importance no one else seemed to grasp might have brought them to Mary’s home months or years after Jesus’ birth. The treasure chests they left at her feet would now need to be packed for another uncomfortable donkey ride, this time fleeing in the middle of the night to start a journey hundreds of miles long, taking her and her little family to a foreign land with unfamiliar people, customs, food, and language. Did she ponder why God would send His long-awaited son only to have his life threatened by the king of Israel? Did she know that her extraordinary sacrifice to protect this promised child would only keep him on this planet for a few decades?
We can make sense of these inconsistencies only by unwrapping the other gifts we have been given. The baby in the manger was the first present to break into the questions of whether God sees, hears, cares, and provides, but it was not the last. We have been given the rest of the Story. That baby, sent on a starry night in Bethlehem, was not destined to stay in a manger on the shelf. His journey to Egypt, his life and ministry throughout the Promised Land, his gruesome death on a gnarly, crude cross, his earth-shattering silence in the cold, hard grave, his glorious resurrection celebrated by more hosts of Heavenly messengers, and his cloud-lifting ascension to our Father in Heaven has made possible the gifts that cannot be purchased or wrapped, but only graciously and thankfully accepted:
- He has restored our right relationship with the Father, and promised to be our faithful, Good Shepherd
- He has made possible our conversion from dirty, sin-filled sheep to snow-white lambs continually residing within His loving care and provision
- He is “with us always, even to the end of the age,” and through the gift/presence of the Spirit, we are “not left as orphans…”
- Pain? He felt it.
- Loneliness? He experienced it.
- Grief? He endured it.
- Anger? He expressed it.
- Rejection? He bore it in silence.
- Death? He overcame it.
- Relationship with the Father? He modeled it and made it possible for us.
- Joy? He restores it.
- Gratitude? He inspires it.
- Hope? He gives it freely.
- A future? He guarantees it.
He still sees, hears, cares, plans, and provides…We can celebrate that this Christmas, regardless of whether our physical surroundings-or the inside of our heart and mind-more closely resemble an inn or a stable. God is good, all the time! What gifts will we give Him in return? Will we respond in joy-filled obedience, as Mary did? Will we give Him our brokenness, trusting Him to sculpt us into figures that more closely resemble His perfection each day? Will we share His gifts with those around us, knowing that what we store up in Heaven is worth far more than anything we can put on a credit card?
“Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!”
The Nativity reminds us that with joyful obedience, we, too, can keep the Savior at the center of our hearts, lives, and homes. In Him, we can experience the reality that even dirt, smells, noise, and difficult emotions can co-exist with the promises given and fulfilled by our loving Heavenly Father. His presence this season is the gift which keeps on giving, from now through all eternity!
Lamentations 3:20-23 New Living Translation (NLT) “I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss.
Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning.”
© 2017 Laurel A Falvo