My favorite Christmas essay was written by my friend Bill Hatcher in 1999. I share it with you in hopes that it will minister to you as much as it has me. — Billy Blackwood
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger….” (Luke 2:7)
God has an amazing way of choosing the undesirable things of earth and placing His beauty there. The presence of God changes our perceptions. It opens our eyes from the physical into the spiritual. It illuminates our vision. God takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary; the natural, supernatural; the worthless, priceless. So it was that first night in Bethlehem. Only the God of the universe would have chosen a manger as the place to bring His Son into the world, a feeding trough for Mary and Joseph to lay the Word made flesh; certainly not a place of splendor or a palace for a king.
For many people that night, thoughts were anywhere but directed towards a stable in Bethlehem. How different today. Now nativities are found in homes or front yards of families right in your neighborhood. The manger today has been transformed into a thing of beauty and holiness. But the beauty of the manger is not because of what it is, but because of Who resided there. When we see the manger, we see Jesus. And He makes it beautiful.
Far from the material extravagance of Christmas today, the first Christmas was born of humility. And Humility is the great extravagance, even to the death on the cross.
That first night probably found many people staring down wrong paths and dead-end streets. But I have a feeling that on that same night, all of heaven had their eyes fixed on a tiny manger. Outside the atmosphere may have been noisy, but I wonder if all heaven was suddenly silenced as the Son of God came forth from the womb of a virgin. There were no scents of cinnamon or potpourri that evening, but surely Mary and Joseph breathed the very fragrance of God as they cradled the Savior in their arms. No sparkling lights hung from the exterior of that little manger, but the Light of the world filled the interior. And although there would be no decorated Christmas tree in the corner, God would choose another tree for His Son: the cross.
The manger seems such an unfitting place for God to have chosen for His only Son. And yet, even today God still looks to place His beauty in undesirable places, dirty and unlovely mangers that now take the form of you and me. It is the love of God to look down from heaven and say, “There is another manger, and I would love to dwell there, too.” And so He knocks to see if we will let Him in. And if we do, He takes our manger and transforms it. And over time it becomes a beautiful and a holy thing.
But the beauty of our manger is not because of what we are, but because of Who resides in us. And I pray that when others see our manger, they will see Jesus. For He alone can make a manger beautiful.
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