“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5 ESV
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 NKJV
Our Sunday School class received a rare treat this morning! We had a young woman who came to share her gift with us. Using ASL, she signed the song “Mary Did You Know” for us as a wonderful complement to our lesson about how Mary readily accepted her assignment from God without fuss or complaint. That’s an amazing thought all by itself, isn’t it?!
As our teacher set the stage for the lesson, she reminded us that the stable wasn’t like what we see in most depictions of drama or on our mantels each year. Instead of a separate wooden structure much like what we’re used to seeing, it was most likely a nearby cave. She further reminded us that instead of a “traditional” manger of wood and hay, what the animals most likely ate from would have been a simple, rough, hollowed-out crevice in a nearby piece of cave rock. “Who,” she asked, “would want to place their newborn baby in that?!”
The rest of her lesson was beautifully presented as she continued, but I confess that my mind was still whirling over that manger-thing. I grabbed a post-it note from my purse (because thanks to my Tuesday Ladies I have a bunch of those now! grin) and I scribbled the following: “The Light has come and the hollowed out place was filled.”
Think about that for a moment with me. Hundreds of years ago, Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, inventor, and theologian wrote the following:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.” ~Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662
His gorgeous quote is often reduced to the simple (?!) idea of a God-shaped hole…and that thought brought me down another trail. Imagine with me the Creator God as He formed the earth and as He got to this particular piece of ground how He might have paused and thought, “This is it. THIS is where I’m going to send My Son one day.” Imagine that. Think of the intention of God in creating that hollowed-out place of a dark cave and the intention He has to create that kind of place for Himself…in us!
What kind of care do we take when we prepare things for our loved ones–especially at this time of year? How easy do we try to make it for them, how beautiful, how convenient, how comforting and comforting? Yet, God seemingly did none of those things for His only begotten Son–so that WE could one day be saved through the death, burial and resurrection of this Jesus into a relationship with Him and be filled with God the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. Stunning.
As I continued to think about the intentionality of that crevice in the rock serving as a place for the animals to feed, I wondered if God created that manger by His very own thought or if He had the condensation of cave water drip there so long that it created that little hollowed out place or if He had someone else come along and chisel it out later. Without God’s intervention, the fact is that holes in rock are rarely created quickly or by ease. Either some work was involved or, at the very least, some many years and years of dripping and dripping and dripping of water upon stone in a seemingly unimportant task. How many times would be needed for the drops to drip or the chisel and hammer strike to create the place where the Holy One would lie wrapped in swaddling clothes (death clothes to foreshadow what was to come!)?
How many times do we question the importance of what we’re being asked to do? How often do we experience deaths (both real and figurative) in our relationships–the seemingly thoughtless remarks that eat away at us, or the harsh cutting away of some part of our lives leaving behind a raw and gaping hole and we wonder the eternal angry question of “WHY?!” What if, instead, we looked at these hard and hurtful things as opportunities God can use to fill us with Himself?
THAT is the real message of Christmas, you know. God sent His only Son to fill in our hollow places. The Rock of Ages was laid in a hollowed out cave rock so that we could become whole again and spend eternity with Him. The Light of the World came into our darkness so we could fully see the beauty of God and His great love for us.
May everything that is good and holy and intentional about God’s original gift to us be present in our celebration of the birth of Christ today. If that concept is foreign to you or you find this holiday season to be a difficult one, I hope you’ll be open to a new experience this year. He came for us so that we could come to Him.
Don’t wait. Come to Him today and be made whole.
Grace and Peace!–and Merry Christmas!!