Christmas is coming and I am beginning to decorate our home for this sacred season. One of my favorite focal points is our nativity set of olive wood figurines depicting the scene of Jesus’ birth. I meticulously place Mary and Joseph in the center of our crèche with baby Jesus in a little manger between them. There is a kneeling shepherd along with a few animals. I stand one sheep on a small bale of hay and scatter a few pieces of straw on the stable’s floor. I place the wise men to one side of the barn since they have not yet arrived upon the scene. Hmmm. Is this how Jesus’ birthplace really looked that night so many years ago? I don’t think so. Sharon Garlough Brown, in her book Barefoot, describes the birthing scene as a messy manger. This may be more accurate.
As a potentially more authentic picture, I imagine dirty cattle huddled in a corner stall swishing their tails to keep away flies and insects while their feeding trough now holds a tiny baby rather than grain and hay. This dilapidated barn shelters a donkey and a few sheep while pigeons flutter in the roof rafters. Jesus most likely was born in a messy manger – He was born into a messy world.
From now until Christmas, we are going to look closely at one figure of the Nativity scene each week. Today we begin with Joseph.
Joseph was betrothed to Mary and they had marriage plans. That is until Mary told him that she was going to have a baby conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph did not fully understand all Mary was saying, but he did know he was not the father. What a mess! Joseph considered divorcing Mary quietly but then God told him in a dream to go ahead and take her as his wife. (see Matthew 1:18-25) As the time drew closer for the baby to be born, Caesar Augustus decided to take a census that required Joseph to register in Bethlehem. Mary went along. (see Luke 2:1-5) Then things get even messier because Mary went into labor. Joseph had to be wondering where this uniquely conceived baby would soon be born. Surely God would provide a special place for His Son to be born! Well, yes, God did provide a special place, but it was not where Joseph expected.
Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Joseph began persistently knocking on the doors of inns and homes seeking a place to stay. No room! Ugh! Because all these doors were slammed shut in his face, Joseph was only able to provide Mary with an unsanitary stable for the birthing place of her baby. Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was born in a messy manger.
I wonder if Joseph’s continuous knocking prophetically portrayed how in years to come Jesus would stand at the door of each person’s heart repeatedly knocking and seeking entrance. Jesus lets us know in Revelation 3:20, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Joseph pounded on many doors that were never opened, or if they were opened, there was no available occupancy because of the crowd of travelers in Bethlehem for the census. Today as Jesus knocks on the door of each of our hearts, are we open to letting Him come in and take up residence within us, or are we allowing other things to crowd out His place in our lives? Listen to the words of the Lord in Proverbs 23:26, “Give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways.”
Jesus was born in a messy manger into a chaotic world. When He was born in a messy manger, Jesus revealed that He was not picky about His surroundings. Jesus came as Emmanuel; He came to be God with us. (see Matthew 1:23) Today, Jesus is willing to come into the mess of our lives and cleanse of all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
Knock! Knock! Is that Jesus knocking at the door of your heart? He wants to come in and celebrate His birth with you. He doesn’t care if your life is a little discombobulated. It will remind Him of the night over 2000 years ago when His bed was a messy manger. Answer His knock by joining me in singing or repeating the lyrics of Into My Heart found below.
Into my heart, into my heart,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus;
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.