I unpacked my nativity scene to display for Christmas; what appeared to be an idyllic scene as I placed the painted figures in the humble dwelling must have been a great inconvenience for Mary and Joseph. The stillness and serene faces hide the fact that Mary and Joseph traveled for about eighty miles to Bethlehem because of the decree for a census. Joseph had searched high a low for an inn to provide Mary a place to give birth. The bustling Bethlehem overflowed with travelers and the ‘No Vacancy’ signs ruled that night. Instead they took shelter, if you can call it that, in a stable.
The sanitized crèche seen on Christmas cards hides the evidence of barnyard smells and prickly hay. Joseph probably cleared a spot and put fresh hay down for Mary. He scooted the cow and the lambs out of the way and borrowed a feeding trough to lay the newborn baby. It wasn’t what they had planned for their birthing location, but by divine direction shepherds who had been in the starlit field found the infant, Jesus lying in a manger just as the angels had said.
I wonder what the young family was thinking about as they were jostled and tossed about, unable to find a resting place. Did they get stressed? Were they cranky? Did Mary and Joseph have words with each other in the heat of the situation?
We often forget that these were real people and trying situations. Instead of seeing them through human eyes, we set them up as some super saints who dressed up for a role and played it to perfection. But, the smelly stable was an obstacle; one that I would have felt cranky about.
So, as I ponder the holy family and all they endured, I am encouraged because of their faith and strength in the midst of some not so perfect circumstances. They knew that their son, Jesus was God’s son and they were coming to grips with angel’s proclamations. Yet mingled with the amazing truth they needed to face some uncomfortable realities. Scripture says that Mary pondered all the things that were said. She heard the shepherds tell about the angels in the field. By God’s grace, Mary and Joseph fulfilled God’s plan even when things didn’t look anything like they imagined.
In any situation we encounter, we are the ones chosen to roll with the punches and give grace to those around us. God is at work in you and in me to bring about His purposes in us and through us. We may need to endure some smelly surroundings sometimes, but we can trust just like Mary and Joseph did on the night of Jesus’ birth. God is at work and is bringing some amazing things to pass in our generation. It may not be what we imagine but we can trust Him to work it out as we live life and face its less than perfect circumstances.
The coming of Jesus the Messiah was expected, but no one imagined Him being born among the smelly stable animals. For this reason, some overlooked Him. This nativity lesson to me is to expect the unexpected. Don’t miss what God is doing around you because it doesn’t look like what you have planned.
How is God at work around you today? How is it different than you imagined?