Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where do we look for the manger?

Like the songs says about lookin for love in all the wrong places, our great temptation is to look for the manger in all the wrong places.  We search out Jesus in the moments of our own accomplishments and the earthly triumphs of our strength, intellect, and cunning (without even realizing the limitations placed upon us by sin and our mortal frames).  We search out Jesus by the light of our moral deeds and our own righteousness (forgetting that they are flawed and frail).  We search out Jesus in silence of earthly peace and gestures of good will (forgetting that Christ's peace is not the same as a ceasefire nor politeness the same as His favor).

God plants the manger not on the rich soil of our successes but in the worn out soil of our failures.  God places the manger not on the carefully crafted foundations laid by our attempts to be holy and good but in the midst of our failed efforts and the stains of our sins.  This is something missed by the greeting card manufacturers who picture Bethlehem as a quaint little town, with a comfortable stable and a picturesque manger.  God planted the manger in the midst of Israel's sleep of doubt and death.  He planted the manger on the neglected hopes and cold dreams of a people who had long before stopped expecting much from God.  In the stink of dung, in the darkness of night, and in the wild loneliness of animals, God put the manger where His Son was laid.

Still that is where we find the manger.  In the moments of our defeat and in the dullness of our senses, Christ is born.  On the soil of our sin and guilt and death, Christ is born among us still.  In the wounds of our suffering and the pain of living as outcasts in a world no longer friendly to God and His purposes, Christ is born among us still.  We do not wait for things to be right, for lives to be fixed, for good behavior, or for achievement in order to see the manger and know the Christ.  He comes as the Light to our darkness not the capstone to our greatness.

We seem to think that in order for us to see God, we need to become great.  In the end we have it backwards.  The greatness of the Lord is that He comes to us in the midst of our sin and failure, darkness and death, to shine with the light of forgiveness, life and salvation.

The great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) wrote in 1867 the words that have become a beloved carol:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
    I thought how, as the day had come,

   The belfries of all Christendom
   Had rolled along the unbroken song
   Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:

"There is no peace on earth," I said,
"For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men."
    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

    "God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
    The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good will to men."
Till, ringing singing, on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

In despair I bowed my head.... believing that God must be dead or sleeping or preoccupied because the world is filled the sounds of anger, dispute, hate, and injustice.  Surely God would not plant His manger in such a place!  Or could it be that this is indeed the very place where the manger must be set, where the Savior must be born, and where the Light shines?  Where do you look for the manger?  If you do not see it, perhaps you are looking in all the wrong places.  The bells peal and the light shines where darkness is darkest, where pain hurts its worst, and where there is nothing of goodness and greatness.  For such is the place that needs the manger -- every other place has no need of a Savior... think about it. . .

1 comment:

Miriam said...

Yes indeed.the Lord works in mysterious ways.I have visited bethlehem,Palestine a few years ago and despite the Christians there living under occupation,hatred,conflict,racism etc the Lord certainly does come to them . He comes tothem in the midst of sin and failure, darkness and death, to shine with the light of forgiveness, life and salvation.They told me this themselves.That is faith unparallelled .I was truly convicted and humbled.