Blogger: Wendy Lawton
As we take another look at the event that changed all history, I think the setting– a humble stable, probably little more than a cave hewn out of the earth– bears a closer examination.
Our Christmas celebrations call for decking the halls with an abundance of gilt and sparkle, light and glitter. I’ll admit I’m guilty of this as we decorate our house both inside and out. We have two Christmas trees loaded with treasured ornaments. Every surface is decorated and icicle lights hang from the eaves.
But that first Christmas took place in a stable. When we think of the birthplace of Jesus our perception has been tainted by exquisite Fontanini nativities and Renaissance paintings. We picture the artistic crèche of Christmas that is lovingly familiar, with angels at hand and shepherds kneeling reverently before the manger. Our children may be picturing a Veggie Tales nativity or a plastic nativity playset.
I had to laugh when my friend (and client) Virginia Smith posted this about her two-and-a-half-year-old grandson on her Facebook page: “Dominic came over tonight. We were playing with the Nativity set, pointing out the figures. Dominic says, ‘Here’s the Mommy, and here’s the Daddy, and here’s the baby Jesus in his car seat.’ Then he says, ‘Oh, no! The baby Jesus needs his butt changed. Here.’ (Grabs up an angel.) ‘The fairy can change his butt.'” Too funny, but not probably that far off from some of the misconceptions we have.
Here in dairy country, we know stables. Trust me, they do not smell of cedar and cinnamon. God could have chosen a palace as the birthplace of his Son, but he chose a stable. Unless it had just been mucked out, Jesus’ birthplace would have been less like an exquisitely sculpted nativity scene and more likely to make Mary gag. Picture piles of manure pushed up against the walls, flies buzzing and mildewed hay. Yet out of that rank stable came the Savior of the world.
The stable helps us realize that the Lord rarely comes to us as we expect him to. My friend (and client) Marlene Chase said it in a poem far better than I can ever say it:
bridges the vaulted dome of sky,
rides the wind from east to west,
cups oceans in His hands.
Who can hold him –
Master of the Universe, Holy One –
Filling every space?
allowed Himself to be contained –
The Holy of Holies in a tabernacle box
with manna, stone and Aaron’s rod.
Later a trough
for feeding hungry sheep and cows
carried the Christ of God.
Lay in a crypt of chiseled stone-
damp and dark and deadly cold
where lizards crawled and mosses crept.
Holy of Holies, delights now to dwell
in a humble jar of clay.