Messy Shepherds at a Messy Manger

Each day we are 24 hours closer to celebrating the birth of Christ. Although things are still a little messy around our house with Christmas preparations, I still need to take time to prepare my heart for the holidays. Once again, I stop to examine the figures of our nativity scene. Today my attention is drawn to the wooden shepherd. According to the scriptures, the shepherds were in a nearby field taking care of their sheep that starry night when Jesus was born. Suddenly, an angel personally delivered to them the birth announcement of the Savior of the world! They immediately decided to go see this baby. What a glorious birthing party they attended when they arrived at the stable in Bethlehem where they found Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus! (See Luke 2:8-20)

The shepherds did not bother to change clothes before they searched for this baby boy. They were dirty sheep tenders who lived in the open fields with their sheep. Currently, however, they were more concerned about finding the infant than they were about their appearance. It was probably natural for them to begin their quest for this little one in a stable since they were shepherds. Well, I guess they did have help from an angel. The messy manger was a location where the shepherds were comfortable.

I notice that when the shepherds went to Bethlehem, they left their sheep in the fields. Did they realize they were going to welcome the Lamb of God to this earth? (see John 1:29) Was this newborn babe worthy of a higher priority than taking care of their flock of sheep? Why would the Lamb of God be in a messy stable?

Although the shepherds had little knowledge about the infant who was introduced to them as the Savior Christ the Lord, I wonder if they felt a prophetic kinship with him. When they saw him, did they comprehend who he would become? Let us fast forward about 30 years when Jesus compares his life to that of a shepherd in John 10. In verses 1-6, Jesus shares about how sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd while they do not respond to the call of a hired hand. In verses 7-10, Jesus describes himself as the gate for sheep and in verses 11-18, he reveals himself as the good shepherd. Wow! When the shepherds visited Jesus, he was a baby in a manger. As a man, he became the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep. What a future for the infant born in a manger!

The messy shepherds were comfortable around the Christ child because they found him in a messy manger. Today, Jesus is comfortable with our messy lives because He experienced a messy manger. According to John 1:29, He is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, the messiness of our lives. Jesus is also the Good Shepherd who wants to take care of us and guide us so we will not get into more messes. Psalm 23 portrays an excellent example of a shepherd’s job physically and spiritually.

In conclusion, messy shepherds came just as they were, and that is how Jesus wants us to come to Him. I am reminded of the hymn Just As I Am with lyrics by Charlotte Elliott. Please join me in singing or reciting the first two verses of this hymn. It is a good way for us to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

Just as I am, and waiting not
To rid my soul of one dark blot;
To Thee whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

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Mary and the Messy Manger

As I survey my surroundings, I am aware of Christmas stuff scattered around our home.  While listening to the news reports, I hear of turmoil throughout the world.  Wherever I turn, there is another mess.  I pick up the hand-carved figure of Mary in our nativity scene and realize there were some messy situations in her life as well.  

I wonder what thoughts went through Mary’s mind that night when Christ was born. Most likely, she expected the birth of her first child to take place in a warm, cozy room. She may have imagined herself being surrounded by family and relatives in her hometown of Nazareth. I am quite sure she did not expect her newborn’s cradle to be a feeding trough shared with a cow! After all, who would choose a messy manger in the little town of Bethlehem for the birth of a baby? The answer – God. As Heavenly Father, God chose a messy manger for the birth of His Son! Mary’s perception was interrupted by the Lord’s plans and purposes. God did not do things predictably over 2000 years ago, and He still often does not do things as we expect.

Our Heavenly Father has plans and purposes for each of us as His kids. However, His plans for Jesus, His only begotten Son, were special. (see Jeremiah 29:11 and John 3:16) Being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, Jesus came to earth not only to live but to die. He died so that we can be born again. (See John 3:3) Jesus relinquished His position beside His Heavenly Father to be born into the world’s messy manger and 33 years later to die for us. Although our lives may look like messy mangers, we are given the opportunity to die to ourselves and be born again. Then we receive the gift of eternal life. The sacred cycle of life and death occurs both physically and spiritually.

While holding the figure of Mary in my hands, I meditate upon the fact that Mary was privileged to hold God in her hands. She was the mom of Jesus. She was the first person to give God in the flesh a hug. Mary experienced a miracle firsthand!

The night of Jesus’ birth, Mary held him in her arms. In a few weeks, Jesus grasped Mary’s finger in response to her holding his little hand. I am reminded of how a person can wrap someone around their little finger. It is possible for a person to gain control over another individual and make that person do whatever one wishes. Although Christ desires to have preeminence in our lives, He allows us to make that choice. (See Colossians 3:18) I must admit that I would rather be held in the arms of Christ than for me to wrap Him around my little finger! Deuteronomy 33:27 says, “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

Although the inanimate figure of Mary does not allow my hands to feel her heartbeat, another image of the closeness of Mary and the infant Jesus comes to my mind. I see Mary Mom holding Jesus close to her heart allowing him to hear her heartbeat while she is feeling the rhythm of his heart. Today Jesus wants us to hold Him close to our hearts so that He can hear our heartbeat and we can feel His. He gives each of us a new heart – a heart that is in love with Him. (See Ezekiel 36:26-27) God is love. Jesus is God. So, Jesus is love. Mary had the privilege of holding love in her arms. Now we have the privilege of holding Jesus, the love of God, in our hearts when we personally invite Him into our lives. (See I John 4:7-17)  Jesus in our hearts can help us handle the messiness of our lives.

My Reader, may you experience the love of Jesus in your heart.  Please join me in either singing or repeating the words of the first verse of the Christmas song Love Came Down at Christmas by Christina Rossetti.

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
star and angels gave the sign.

Joseph Knocks and Gets a Messy Manger

 

 

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.

A Journey to Bethlehem – Peace

 

advent-wreath-1As Christmas Day is getting closer, so am I getting closer to the completion of my spiritual journey to the Bethlehem of my heart. In order to reach my destination of a joyous, meaningful celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, my travels now take me along the Path of Peace. On Christmas Day, I want to humbly bow at the manger where the Baby Jesus is laid. Currently, I am in the company of all the men and women traveling to Bethlehem for the sole purpose of registering for the census required by Caesar Augustus.

traveler-1Luke 2:1-3 states,In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.” Although registering for a census was not a common occurrence, no one was exempt from this decree. Anyone whose ancestry traced back to David had to travel to Bethlehem regardless of where they currently resided. Consequently, I encounter many people traveling the Path of Peace that leads to Bethlehem. I realize that not everyone has covered the same number of miles nor have they come from the same direction. For me, this symbolizes how anyone who comes to know Christ travels their own unique journey to find Him. However, the sad thing about these sojourners on their way to Bethlehem was that they did not know that they were on the same road as Mary and Joseph just before she would give birth to the Son of God. Many who lived in Bethlehem or were spending the night in that town had no idea of what sacred event was taking place in their midst. Luke 2:7 tells me that she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” I wonder if the inn keeper who shut the door of his home to Mary and Joseph eventually went out to his stable to see the Christ child. How many people today shut the doors of their hearts to Jesus preventing His birth into their lives?

While covering the miles of the Path of Peace with other travelers, I am curious about how many of them truly knew what a privilege it is to walk the Path of Peace. I wonder how many of the people around me today know the difference between the world’s peace and God’s peace. I want to make a couple of physical and spiritual comparisons. First, these people who over 2000 years ago made this journey because the emperor required all Romans citizens to write their names in a census book. The Lord has a more important book where I want to be sure my name is written. Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Secondly, Caesar Augustus was the ruler of the Roman world during this time of relative peace. Isaiah 9:6 says, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

I agree with the Psalmist who tells the Lord in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” As I travel along the Path of Peace during this Advent season, I notice some scriptural sign posts along my way. Jesus says in John 14:27,Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Philippians 4:7 tells me, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, Colossians 3:15 reminds me to, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.”

Mark 1:3 says “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” and Isaiah 40:3 says, “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” During the past four weeks, I have been on a spiritual journey to the Bethlehem in my heart, I have been traveling a highway comprised of the Road of Hope, Trail of Love, Route of Joy, and Path of Peace – all with the intent of making the path of my life straight so that I can sincerely celebrate the birth of Jesus in just a few days.

My Reader, I hope you have been traveling with me as we have retraced the route to Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, to prepare ourselves to celebrate His birthday. It seems appropriate for us to conclude our spiritual journey to Bethlehem by focusing upon the Christmas carol by Philip Brooks known as O Little Town of Bethlehem.

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by:
Yet in thy dark streets shineth The everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee to-night.

For Christ is born of Mary;
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together
Proclaim the holy birth;
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace to men on earth.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still,
The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in,
Be born in us to-day.

We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us,
Our Lord Emmanuel.

Merry Christmas to All My Readers!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
gold apple new

* Bold type words are my choice of emphasis.