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Thursday, December 15, 2011

But, Why a Manger?

As I mentioned in the last post, the Nicene Creed is one of the earliest statements of authentic Christian faith. And, since we are in the midst of Advent -- the time when Christians reflect on the first coming of Jesus -- I thought to post a few excerpts from my first book, "We Believe: Forty Meditations on the Nicene Creed." Here is another excerpt from the book:

Nicene Creed Statement: By the power of the Holy Spirit He was born of the Virgin Mary . . .

Today’s focus: He was born

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name Him Emmanuel, which means "God is with us" (Matthew 1:23).

            I remember our excitement when Nancy and I learned she was pregnant with our first child. It happened more than thirty years ago, but the memories remain vivid. We waited with growing anticipation during the nine months as her abdomen slowly expanded. We watched in awe as her belly rippled when Keren stretched in the womb. We busied ourselves with planning and shopping and decorating the nursery long before we brought our baby home.

Our daughter was born March 12, 1977 in a warm, hygienic hospital delivery room. The obstetrician handed Keren to a nurse, who wiped her with a soft towel, wrapped her in a blanket, and carried her to Nancy’s arms.

What parent doesn’t hope his or her child will enter the world snuggled in a warm blanket, laid in a comfortable bed, and watched over by an adoring family? And if anyone might have expected that kind of experience, Mary and Joseph surely did. After all, the Virgin carried the Son of God within her womb, conceived through the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit. 

Babies just don’t get any more special. But when His parents arrived in Bethlehem, the town was already swollen with strangers. Joseph and Mary, tired and hungry from their journey, longed for a place to bathe and a bed to let their weariness give way to refreshing sleep. Instead, Joseph searched in vain for a clean and comfortable place for his wife to lie down. They settled for the night with cattle and to the smell of manure and rotting straw.

To make an uncomfortable situation worse, Mary went into labor.

Why did God bring His son into the world in a barn instead of a manicured palace? Why did He permit His Son to be born far from family and friends who could nurture the Infant and help the new mother care for Him?

I don’t know. That’s not the way I’d have done it. But were I to guess, I’d say it happened that way so God could demonstrate from the very beginning of His work for our salvation that “Emmanuel” really does mean God is with us – in our poverty, complete with rotting straw, manure and flies.

The Nicene Creed reminds us Jesus was born as most of humanity is born: in humble surroundings with the most meager of necessities. Christ knows the fullness of our harshest experiences because He lived through them – from a feeding trough to a splintered cross, with the Via Dolorosa – the Way of Suffering – between the two.

Jesus’ birth – like His life – is God’s assurance that He is intimately connected to our humanness. He understands our loneliness, our sorrow, our confusion. And through it all, He remains only a prayer away from drawing us to Himself, wrapping us in His arms and wiping us clean with His blood.

Prayer: Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, when I am rushed and confused, compose and quiet me. Make my heart like a comforted child, not looking at my circumstances, but always to You, my shelter, my anchor, my peace. Amen.

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