I love manger scenes. I am not an avid collector or anything like that, but I really do love them. It is so interesting to me how different artists try to capture that black, starry night over 2,000 years ago when God invaded earth and everything changed.
I have six if you include the ones we have made. I find myself regularly stopping and staring at them wondering what it would have been like truly. What was Mary thinking? Joseph? What about those shepherds who were tending their sheep like every other night of their life when their world was turned upside down by a choir of angels announcing that the Messiah, God with us, had come?
The one night when heaven touched earth and turned history on it’s head. The night that God staged a rescue in the most unremarkable, remarkable way. The most demonstrative action of love ever performed began on that night when God was born as man in the form of Jesus. It actually began in the heart of God a long time before, but this was the night that the plan began to unfold. The plan was no longer a plan in the mind of God, but was in the beginning stages of being enacted. I wonder if Heaven stood in anticipation holding its breath the night that the birth took place? All knowing, esteemed and exalted Jesus now a helpless baby who couldn’t walk, talk or even roll over on His own. This Son of God who was part of creating the world and all that is in it, couldn’t even lift His head. What must have it been like to watch the esteemed Son make a quiet entrance into the broken world of mankind as a helpless baby?
I wonder if God stood in anticipation about what was going to unfold. This was a covert operation to bring hearts back to Him. His love demonstrated, mankind’s heart turned towards Him and the second Adam enabling man to live differently. The ability to live according to God’s Kingdom now – all because of this little baby. This God/man miracle would make a way for broken hearts to be mended, sinful hearts to be forgiven, depressed hearts to be filled with joy, hopeless hearts to be filled with hope and relationship with God to be restored.
This night was for all of mankind – the shepherds were the common man living a mundane life; the wisemen were respected and anything but ordinary. God demonstrated that He was coming for all classes and for people near and far – He wanted anyone who would be humble enough to seek Him. Some would miss Him – many would miss Him in fact. You can’t tell me that the three wiseman were the only ones in the whole world that noticed the odd star. Maybe some missed it’s meaning, others didn’t want to make the journey and still others simply disbelieved that it was anything special. The wisemen didn’t actually come until Jesus was around two years old. This was not a quick journey they made. It was long and it was dangerous, but they found Him worth it. Something was different. Something had changed. Some missed Him because He didn’t come as they expected. The day after God entered earth as a baby, Bethlehem woke up and people went about their normal business. The world went about it’s business not knowing that a death blow had been dealt to the chains that bound it. It wasn’t loud, it was hidden for the most part. All over the world people fed families, picked up the house, made business deals, worshiped in temples, conversed with friends, invented things, debated in temples and all of the other things people did and still do on a daily basis.
Some were standing on a promise that had already been answered. They were still waiting in hope not realizing that Hope had come. Without the full picture, a baby seems to be a sad answer to the world’s problems. A baby is not a warrior. A baby can’t free a thing, much less a captive world. This was not what they were hoping for, but some saw. Some saw that God had a bigger plan that was unfolding. They understood that what they were seeing was a plan enacted by the God who created the universe, thus it must be good. In fact, it must be grand, perfect and showstoppingly amazing. A plan by God can’t be anything other than that. Hope in this baby took a lot of faith. Knowing the whole story, it’s easier to see – although many still cannot see. A miracle hadn’t been performed, a life had not been witnessed, there had been no indication that this baby was special. Mary was a virgin? Likely story – only she and Joseph saw the angel. Shepherds were surrounded by angels? All of mankind hadn’t seen it – only the shepherds. I like to think I would have known and believed, but I can’t be so sure.
Just a few years later even John the Baptist began to doubt. He had even witnessed God’s voice calling out, “This is my Son in Whom I am well pleased,” when Jesus was baptized (Matthew 3:17), seen His miracles and seen the effect He had on humanity. If this doesn’t prove something, I’m not sure what would. This is the guy who said that he was not fit to untie Jesus’ sandal. Untying sandals is what servants did. He didn’t think he was even worthy to be Jesus’ servant. He is the guy who leapt in the womb when pregnant Mary entered the room. He is the guy who spent his life preparing the way. Alone in the jail, awaiting beheading, he was losing hope. I would. He began to wonder if he was duped. I mean, this was a really bad ending to what should have been a great and promising story. He gave his life to preparing the way for a King who wasn’t intervening in his situation the way he thought He should. I don’t know what he was thinking, but I can guess from his question. “Are you the Messiah we have been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”Matthew 11:3 “If Jesus is Who He said He is, what in the world am I doing here? What have I been thinking?! Did I waste my time? This can’t be right. This isn’t what He was supposed to do. This isn’t what I thought. In fact, things are not adding up. In his question he sent through the messenger, he was asking a whole lot. “Was I wrong about You? You’re kind of a disappointment. Should I wait for another? You’re not exactly coming through for me.” The answer was not a ‘get out of jail free card’ but rather an unexpected answer.
“Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is being preached to the poor. Matthew 11:4. Lives are being changed. Freedom is coming to people. This kind of sounds like Isaiah 61 which John the Baptist would have been familiar with. It is a description of what the Messiah would do. The Spirit of the Sovereign God is upon me, for the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. Isaiah 61:1 “John, I am He. I am who you’ve been waiting for. Things may not look like you think they should, but I am coming through.”
Jesus then gives John something to hang onto. “And tell him God blesses people who do not turn away because of me.” Matthew 11:5 “You will be blessed if you hang onto hope. Me – I am hope. You may not understand me, in fact you misunderstand me a whole lot right now because My ways are different than yours. I can see the whole picture. You have a limited view.” John the Baptist lost his head – literally. I doubt that was the outcome he was hoping for, but from the vantage point he has now, I doubt he would have orchestrated things any differently. Ultimately, Jesus was putting John’s hope back in the right place. “John, things don’t make much sense. What you were hoping for is not happening. You were NOT wrong about Me, I am just doing things differently than you expected. In fact, it’s not going to happen or play out the way you think it should at all. BUT blessed are you when you trust Me anyway and do not lose hope when I am doing things differently than you were hoping for. Blessed are you when you can fix your eyes on Me and know that I am working a bigger plan. You are offended because we grew up together and you have seen me perform miracles. You know I can get you out of your predicament, but blessed are you when you can trust Me even in this. You may see it eventually and you may not ever see it in this life. When you can see it from My perspective, you will never question my wisdom, my love or my hand. Can you trust Me in spite of what I am or am not doing?”
It takes a great deal of trust to hope when we cannot see. If we are hoping in our circumstances, we will lose hope if things don’t turn out like we think they should. If our hope is in Him – that He knows, He’s moving and He holds our lives, we will not be shaken. He is writing our story and it is woven within the fabric of the larger picture of what He is doing. When we try to make our story about us we will always come up empty handed, but when we offer our lives up as part of the larger story He is writing, He will make sense of hopeless situation. We may not be able to see it now, but we can have hope in the God who writes grand stories. Those who hope in Him will not be disappointed.
In that little baby, born on a starry night, was all the hope the world would need. His Kingdom come, His will be done…
Jesus, I had hoped …., but this is what I see. Help me to trust You. I know that You are writing My story and even though I can’t always see what is going on, You know. I trust You and I will allow You to be the writer of my story, the designer of my life and the One who I put all of my hope in. You say that those who hope in You will not be disappointed. When I have a hard time trusting, I will ask You for eyes to see. Help me to see as You do, but even when I can’t, help me to trust You, Your intentions toward me and Your grand plan for my life. I surrender it to You and chose to allow You to orchestrate my life as You see fit. I know that in Your wisdom, You hold my life in your hands and all that is in it. I give it to You. I chose to hope in You.