“The suffering of Jesus didn’t begin on the cross; it began in his straw bed, and continued through to the cross, all for our redemption.” O Come Let Us Adore Him, Paul David Tripp
Christmas is much more beautiful today than Mary and Joseph could have ever imagined. Their first Christmas was much messier and far less festive. We can truly celebrate in our day and time because of what unfolded in the mess of that first Christmas. We should celebrate with humble gratitude because Christmas fully reveals that Jesus entered into the mess of our world, He will enter into our mess if we will let Him.
Come back to this story again with fresh eyes as captured by Luke.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when, Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. ~ Luke 2:1-7
A young virgin named Mary received a divine visitation from the angel Gabriel and was told she would conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, and he would be the Son of God. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her and brought forth a miracle in her life, and in her womb. This miracle would have the name Jesus.
Flash forward 9 months, and Mary is close to delivering her baby. First though, she has to endure a grueling 90 mile road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the back of a donkey or camel because of the census. God’s timing was absolutely terribly perfect in order to get this couple to Bethlehem – the place appointed for Messiah to be born. There were no Christmas carols to sing along to on the way. This was not a fun trip to Grandma’s house where the whole family would gather together for the holiday. This was not heaven, but a little bit of hell for the couple to get to Bethlehem and not even have a reservation at a hotel. After all the travel, they are banished to a barn as her labor pains began to intensify.
A young teenage girl had to share about her pregnancy to her fiance, who then had to be convinced by angel that her story was legit. He was ready to walk, unwilling to believe her scandalous tale of her visit from God. Joseph had no doubt that Mary had compromised herself and betrayed him by sleeping with another man. There was no other explanation possible. He went to biology class back in high school. He knew the birds and the bees, and how this stuff happens. Only a divine visitation could convince him that this was the work of God. It was messy.
So here is the couple after a crazy 9 month pregnancy, a 90 mile journey, and some promises from God. The time has come and Mary is not resting in a comfortable bed surrounded candle with a doula by her side. No one there on that night would think this scene would adorn mantle pieces and Christmas cards in the form of Nativity – and that this messy and scary scene would be one that would offer comfort and hope for years to come. That night most likely did begin looking like a Norman Rockwell painting.
They were in some type of stable, surrounded by animal and hay, and the stuff that animals leave behind. I imagine the odor was strong, and the feel of dirt and grime were tangible. Did Mary lay down on a hay bundle as she began to push in fear and pain. Did Joseph have to grit his teeth as he held her hand? Or was he the one who had to deliver? What were the animals doing as her labor pains intensified? Was anyone there to help? Or did people just hear her moaning in pain and quickly walk past the stable.
Alone, far from home, the couple has been through hell, and then HEAVEN enters the world, having come from Mary’s womb. Her pain will become the world’s gain. Jesus is cleaned off, and wrapped in swaddling cloths, and then they laid him in a manger – a feeding trough for animals. Mary is exhausted and wants to sleep; Joseph is on edge and probably wish he had a good stiff drink. Questions are dancing in their head. Promises from God through angels are on their mind as they wonder if all of this is really happening, and is really true.
Then shepherds come and ask for the child. They share what the angels told them, and how they SANG! Oh did they sing about God’s glory and His compassion and mercy to all people to bring this child into the world – A SAVIOR which is Christ the Lord. He is right there in the mess of the manger, having entered the mess of our world. Who would have predicted such a humble birth for a King? No hotel or hospital, but a bed of hay surrounded by the sight, sounds, and smell of barnyard animals and sheep.
Jesus is still born in mangers! He does not come to the proud, self-sufficient and noble ones. He is not born amidst the lives of those who have it altogether. No, Jesus is seeking humble places still in which to find his home. Humble hearts can become the perfect place for Jesus to make His arrival and presence known. You heart must not be perfect. Actually it cannot be perfect. Our hearts are messy, yucky, and probably would produce the smell of animal dung at times if smells were to come from our hearts. The beauty is that none of this bothers Jesus. He can be right at home in a humble heart, as long as that heart welcomes Him presence. If that person’s heart can admit their own mess, realizing they are incapable of making it all “just right” for God, then Jesus would gladly find his home there. “Let every heart prepare him room…” There was no room in the Inn that night, and many people will never make room for Jesus. They will put out the Nativity on the mantle and adore the story, and yet not realize the picture God presents to them concerning His work in their own heart and life. How sad to make room on the mantle for baby Jesus at Christmas, but make no room for Him in the heart.
Come Lord Jesus, and make my heart your home. My heart is not pretty, swept, and clean, but often messy and sinful. But Jesus, it can be yours!! Take my heart. Take my broken, sinful, stubborn, wicked, prideful, deceitful heart, and please COME IN. I turn from pride, and I humbly admit how I need you. And I want you to be born in me. Jesus, live your life through me, love through me, speak through me, walk in and through me. For I am not the hope of glory, yet Christ in me is the hope of glory. Amen!!!