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The Gift of Ordinary

This is day thirteen of contemplation in the 25 Gifts of the Nativity series. I am glad you are here. May these devotions draw you into the gift of Christ this season.

I don’t believe that Jesus was born in a stable.

Yes, it paints a lovely picture and framework for the nativity sets placed around our homes, but I am not certain that the lean-to shelters represent the actual story of Christ’s birth. In a strange sort of way, the quiet rawness of a barn birth is too extraordinary for what God had intended. If Christ had been born in a castle as he deserved, the story would be inaccessible to our minds. So, too is the late night, immediate, all alone, barn story. I think his birth, like life, was much more ordinary than that.

Consider….

1. No where in the Bible does it stay that Jesus was born in a barn, stall, or lean to out back. Yes, it says that he was laid in a manger, but couldn’t that just be a make shift crib? No where in the Bible does it say that he was born in the middle of the night (though perhaps he could have been), or that it happened immediately when they arrived (as if she was in labor while riding a donkey. Oh yeah no mention of a donkey either). No where in the Bible does it say that they were all alone. There is nobody else named, but they aren’t the star of the story anyway. No where in the Bible does it say that there was an innkeeper that told them there was no room. Yes, it says that there was no room for them in the inn, but we will get to that in a moment.

2. It makes no sense that a Jewish culture would completely neglect a young (12-14) year old pregnant girl, sending her out to the barn with no assistance. If a stranger (although I don’t think Mary was a stranger to these people) came to my door and was with child, I would do my best to find more suitable accommodations. I would give up my own bedroom for goodness sake! I would try to find a doctor to help, or at least offer hot water, linens, and food. How much more would a people who extol the value of community and children be likely to bend over backwards for a person in need?

3. Mary and Joseph were traveling back to the land of their relatives. In fact, so were their own parents. There would be aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, and other distant relatives traveling to the same small town. I am sure it was a big family reunion and that the community would have been offended if Mary and Joseph didn’t come to stay with them. That said, I bet that all the aunties, moms, and matriarchs of the family shooed the menfolk away and fussed over Mary, helping her to deliver her firstborn child.

4. There was probably no hotel-like inn in Bethlehem. There isn’t even such a place in my hometown, which is far larger than Bethlehem was at that time. There are two greek words translated “inn” in the New Testament. One is the word, pandocheion, which is the word used in the story of the Good Samaritan, who took the beaten traveller to receive shelter and care.

This word is a hotel, or bed and breakfast like place, where strangers would go for the night. The other is the word, kataluma, which is used three times in Scripture: twice in the nativity story, and once to refer to the room where Jesus had his last supper. This word actually means “guest room”. Homes in that day had split-level, open air construction. The upper level was a sort of large family room with a private, adjacent guest room in the corner. The lower level (at the entrance) was where animals, the family’s livelihood, were housed for the night for warmth and protection. It is here where there would be feeding troughs.

There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the guest room because other relatives (usually important and prominent ones) were already occupying it, but they probably had a place (at the very least) in the lower level of the home. Yes, there was not room for Jesus in the inn at his birth, but there was room in the inn the night before his death.

I love the traditional images of the Christmas story and the emotions that they evoke. I love the simplicity, the humbleness, the picture of the distance that God came for us. In some ways it makes little difference in what type of dwelling Jesus was born, except for one thing.

He came to dwell among us.

To feel what we feel.

To experience what we experience.

To live a normal human life.

To dwell in the mundane.

To be a commoner

And to show us that there is extraordinary in the ordinary, and significance in the insignificant. That rich, abundant, full, meaningful life can take place in circumstances that aren’t all that special.

Many of us may never live a life of unusual circumstances, good or bad. But the indwelling Spirit of Christ gives us identity, imparts meaning, and makes us extraordinary.

Let’s be content in the gift of the ordinary, because beautiful things reside there if we only have eyes to see.

 

Extraordinarily ordinary,

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The Gift of Inconvenience

This is day twelve of contemplation in the 25 Gifts of the Nativity series. I am glad you are here. May these devotions draw you into the gift of Christ this season.

 

We all have idealistic expectations painting pictures in our heads.

Whether we admit it or not, we come to situations with preconceived notions of what life will look like, how we will be treated, and what our role will be. But when the ideal collides with the real, we are often left disappointed. The danger of idealistic expectations is that there is little room for blessing, since anything short is failure and anything met is only expected, especially at Christmas time when traditions are revered.

In full disclosure, that is how this advent season has been for me.

Here is my ideal (which is long standing tradition established when my kids were little and we had much more time):

Do an advent Bible study with my kids each day.

Open the doors of our advent calendar daily, exposing the Christmas activity in which we will participate that day.

Get all of my obligations (shopping, cards, etc.) done early so that I can enjoy the rest of the season.

Cut down a Christmas tree at our favorite farm on a beautiful Sunday afternoon no later than the first week of December.

Here is the real:

We have not settled on an advent curriculum that we like, homework and practices are crowding our quiet spaces.

Not one activity has worked out for our calendar, only leaving my kids disappointed.

I still haven’t finished my shopping, the cards are addressed but not stamped, and the days are slipping by.

There was a torrential downpour on the Sunday we were to get our tree, and basketball tournaments have made weekend tree-getting an impossibility. Our “farm” is only opened on weekends.

 

All of this can be perceived as a frustration, an inconvenience, for this has ruined the plan. But, the unexpected is often the intervention of the Divine. A life interrupted is an ordained life fulfilled.

There are no gold stars handed out for completing our plans as we anticipated. Yet, there is favor given to a life that is yielded to the Spirit of God, open to inconvenience with gladness and grace.

This Christmas, we can follow in the footsteps of Mary and Joseph. I am sure that they, as all young couples do, envisioned their life with dreamy plans of how it would be. A beautiful marriage, a child birthed in the comfort of their own home, a quiet life of reverence for their God and their culture, respect amongst their people. Yet, all that changed as they submitted their life to the Divine. The timing was all “off”. They weren’t married yet. People talked. They would have to go to Bethlehem for a census.

“…there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7)

And life from here on out would not be how they had planned, but it was the plan of Another. There would be gifts in the inconvenience of it all, and they would learn to adjust.

So now?

We are going to do a week of advent from the time the kids get out of school until Christmas morning, lighting each candle of the wreath everyday with focused time and attention.

I have removed all of the activity papers from our calendar and filled them with Scripture verses instead, a better idea anyway. (We will still do the fun things, just with a flexible schedule)

I am learning to take one day at a time, savoring the moment instead of worrying about tomorrow.

We had a wonderful adventure finding our Christmas tree, at a new farm, in the middle of the week. It’s beautiful.

As much as we disdain being out of control, often the bests gifts are born out of inconvenience.

In that hope, may you be gloriously inconvenienced today.

 

Following the Spirit’s lead,

 

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The Gift of Grace

This is day eleven of contemplation in the 25 Gifts of the Nativity series. I am glad you are here. May these devotions draw you into the gift of Christ this season.

Jewish law says that Joseph should have seen Mary stoned (Deuteronomy 22:24).

“If a man commits adultery, with another man’s wife, the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and adulteress are to be put to death.” ¬†(Leviticus 20:10).

So when Mary told Joseph about what the angel had said, that she was pregnant, I am sure his heart sank. He loved this young woman, but the purity of the culture and his faith meant that this sin must be dealt with severely. Yes, she claims to have had no relations with another man, but how could that be true? Had Mary gone mad? Was she just covering up her sin? Was this childish lying?

The community would demand answers. They would demand holiness amongst their people. They would demand her life.

Not only this, but what about the personal shame that Mary had brought upon Joseph? Everybody would wonder if in fact he was the father. What would that mean for him? Even if they believed that he had remained pure, how embarrassing that his betrothed had chosen the love of another. His pride was wounded. His heart hurting. Yes, people would expect that he would “stand up for himself” in deserved retribution.

Yet, grief stricken by apparent betrayal, and wrestling with love and justice, Joseph decides to give her grace. An undeserved favor. A gift. In righteousness, he would choose to divorce her. Certificates of divorce were not handed over for adultery. Those who had committed adultery were issued the death sentence. Certificates of divorce were given for lesser crimes, petty offenses, irreconcilable differences, selfishness (thus why God hates divorce).

Maybe there would be whispers. Maybe his reputation would be tainted. Maybe he would be seen as less than a man. But…

Righteous men do not disgrace, they bestow grace.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:19

Righteous men empty themselves in humility, and despising shame, endure their cross.

Joseph’s grace towards Mary became an integral part of the grace story of God. The ultimate gift, the ultimate in unmerited favor, lay in the womb of the one whom he chose not to disgrace.

What is keeping us from extending grace towards others this Christmas season? Is it our pride? Is it some unwritten fairness code? Is it fear of the whispers? Is it protection from future wounding? Is it a desire for validation of our emotions?

Grace, and it’s righteousness, has been given to us through the life and death of Jesus Christ. This is the perfect time of year to lavishly gift others with our graces in response. It’s not something that can be wrapped up under a Christmas tree, but it’s the most precious of gifts to our loved ones and to our God. Let’s laden ourselves with graceful hearts and hands.

Thankful for grace,

 

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