His Sovereign Choice: Christmas 2019
Can I invite you on a little journey of imagination? You’re in a room all decorated — not very hard to imagine this time of year! — picture the twinkling lights and the decorated tree, hangings and glitter, streamers and shimmer. The room is packed full of people decorated just as brightly, and smiling even brighter still. Everyone’s holding a glass of warm spiced wine, eggnog or hot chocolate, and their laughter fills the space. The warmth from a glowing fire flushes your cheeks, and highlights the smell of evergreen and the spices of the abundant food always within reach. There are musicians in the corner, the happy good cheer of their songs just audible beneath the happy sounds of happy people. You feel welcome and a smile sits effortlessly and permanently on your face. There is a peace here, and a joy, and you feel like life is pretty great after all. And it is, a lot of the time, for a lot of the people. There are problems in the world and there are sorrows past and more to come, but right now they feel far away, out of mind. This is a happy place. This is a good night.
I hope you’ve drunk in the scene… but now you move toward the door, smile at the people you pass on the way, and quickly duck outside. Brrr… it’s chilly out here! You slip through people chatting just outside the door, taking advantage of the quiet. The air is crisp and fresh and cold and the stars are glorious in the sky… one especially.
You’re in such a contented mood and it’s a night that begs for a little stroll. Your eyes are adjusting to the dark as you pass the glowing sign that says “no vacancy,” the muffled sounds from inside fading as your happily aimless steps take you off the sidewalk down a little dirt path into the dark behind the building. As the chill finds its way through your clothes you fold your arms, and when the path nears the stables your steps unconsciously quicken toward the promised warmth of the fire-glow within. That fire means someone’s in there, and you feel a dim soft sympathy for whatever stableboy must have drawn the third shift tonight. Feeling a certain benevolent camaraderie, you walk over to poke your head in and offer a few moments of company.
Not a lone stableboy. A number of people. Sort of a riff raff. The gathering couldn’t be more different from the one you just left. The first thing you notice is that stables don’t smell like cinnamon and evergreen. Neither do shepherds who’ve been in the field all day, nor travelers who’ve been on the road all day, none of whom have had a bath or a fresh change of clothes like people with rooms over at the inn.
Still, you're too surprised and too curious to feel awkward, you politely nudge through the men nearest the door. There’s a young couple over there, he’s holding her hand and humming a soft melody, she’s lying there… is she sick? Oh! She’s…
She's… oh no. No, no, no... not here, not like this. This can’t be happening.
But it is happening. It’s about to happen, and then it’s really happening, it’s happening right now, and then… it’s happened.
It’s a boy.
She holds him for a long time, until the man gently reaches for him, having known he had to wait his turn. Her eyes are already closing, having just have enough time to register gratitude before she sleeps. The man, when it’s time to lay him down, he’s looking around the room as if to verify that there isn’t a better option. There isn’t, so a little straw and a carefully arranged cloak, and the baby’s first crib is a manger. You feel a strange mix of “this is terrible” and “this is perfect.”
You'd only intended to leave the party for a quick breath of fresh air. But now, now that you’re here, you choose to linger and linger. There is joy, here, too, something quieter but somehow deeper. There is peace, here, too, something quieter but somehow deeper. There is contentment, but of a very different kind.
It’s not the contentment of forgetting, of not seeing, of having forgotten all the bad in the world. It’s the contentment of seeing more, maybe seeing all, glimpsing the whole and knowing that somehow it all adds up to something good and true and beautiful, and you’re not happy because you’ve forgotten reality, but because you have hope for it. The people here are strangers but what’s just happened has made you kin.
And you also stay because you can’t take your eyes off the baby, because, well, you just can’t take your eyes off a baby.
And that's how here in this stable, the Almighty God, Creator of all, Lord of Hosts, Who Is and Who Was and Who ever shall Be, Whose offer of Himself has been rejected over and over in every generation, has perhaps finally found a way to hold your attention.
Here’s the thing about the party and the stable: it’s not about dividing the world into fortunate and unfortunate, winners and losers. We are all each. We all spend time at the party and those times are great; the way to be truly grateful and to truly enjoy them is to invite Jesus into those bright joyful times. Don’t tell Him your life is so full that there’s no vacancy. Put Him in the center of the good times and make them even better. I hope your Christmas will be a great example of this, that it will be merry and bright and laughing and warm, that you will feel loved and loving, with Jesus right in the center of all of it. That’s a Merry Christmas!
I have an even deeper wish for you, though, because the stable is part of your life too. In those moments when you think ‘this isn't working, this isn’t enough, I’m not enough…’, in those moments when your efforts fall short, when people make you feel unwelcome or discarded...
...Where's your stable? What's that part of your life or your heart that doesn't fit in, that gets stuck out back, that's maybe even a little ugly and a little smelly? Jesus wants to come into precisely those places. There is no better place to meet Him; it is His sovereign choice to be born exactly there. When Jesus is born into those places they are so totally transformed that they become the most beautiful of all. Jesus is the difference between a dirty smelly barn and a Nativity scene. Jesus is born into our lives, one of us, God with us, Emmanuel. Not only with us at our best and brightest but also with us, especially with us, at the limit of our strength and the failure of our resources.
Let's enjoy the lights and laughter and parties of the Season, and make sure Jesus is given a place there at the center where He belongs! But also, this Christmas, take a break from all that and follow that dirt path out back, where it’s shadowy and quiet and it can feel a little dark and cold, where you might fear you’ll be all alone. Receive Jesus there and know you will never, ever be alone. You will never not be worth it. You will never be turned away or set aside. His mother is there with you, the most beautiful of us all smiling on you as her own child. His foster father, a protector and guide you can rely on, a man you’d trust and follow anywhere. And other friends He will put in your life: not bad company, that. And just let your eyes rest on Him, and keep them there, and linger. It’s into your life, and especially into the less perfect parts of it, that He is longing to be born, to be God with you, always.