Find your manger, and allow God in

At some point in the Christmas season, someone emphasized the fact that there was no room in the Bethlehem inn for Jesus to be born. The animal shelter was hardly a desirable place for such a delicate occasion as the birth of a child. Many women have given birth in squalid conditions, only because they had no choice. But we understandably feel bad about the lowly quarters afforded this peasant family for such a momentous occasion.

Whenever I read the nativity narrative, I am always tempted to whisper, "God, You really got a bad deal in Bethlehem!"

But the testimony of Scripture says that God normally gets a bad deal in His relationships with people. Because of the vast gap between divine holiness and the cesspool of human existence, God has always had to condescend into the sewer of our sins if there would be any hope of salvation. The ambience of manure that wafted across Jesus' nursery was symbolic of the dung He was exposed to as he ministered among people.

But, with a animal feed trough as his crib, Jesus graphically illustrated the fact that God does not need sanitary conditions in order to begin a wondrous, transforming work of grace. In fact, it is impossible for people to create a perfect environment for a holy God. He must enter our mess if we encounter God at all.

If a manger was all Bethlehem would offer, God would use it, not as a final destination, but as a place where grace could be planted. The Christ Child would not need the manger very long. His mission would quickly grow beyond it!

It is interesting to note that in the record we have of the life of Jesus, there is no mention that he ever came back into Bethlehem to heal their sick or preach any of his masterpiece sermons. He would minister in Jerusalem and other Judean villages nearby, but there was no reference of him returning to Bethlehem. He was bigger than their accommodations and confinements.

We need to learn some lessons from the experience in Bethlehem, the first of which is that God is still looking for any available place where He can come to people in grace. And it never has to be cleansed and sanitized! He always comes to pitiful situations, where people are broken and messy. In fact, the testimony of Scripture is that God is attracted to the poor in spirit, the lowly and humble in heart, those who are conscious of their helplessness (Isaiah 66:1-2; Matthew 5:3,4).

But the second lesson of Bethlehem is that God's plan for our lives is greater than the "manger" of our brokenness.

The work of grace that begins there will expand to the whole of our lives, like the growing Child in the home of Joseph and Mary (Luke 2:40; 51-52). A new life does not stay in a manger crib very long. The seed of a new beginning needs more room to develop.

God's ultimate goal for gracing our lives with His presence is to transform us into His likeness. That means we have to allow Him the room to change our attitudes, desires, relationships, outlook and goals. He wants more than a manger of a beginning! He wishes to affect us in every way. It's a process called "maturity."

Did you make any New Year's resolutions? Lose weight? Get a new job? Become financially independent? Have you thought of setting spiritual and moral goals, such as being a more responsible parent? A better mate? A less selfish person? A more trustworthy employee?

Do you think those goals are too lofty and unattainable for someone from your background? They are if you are relying upon your own resources. But they are possible if you will ask for the Savior to birth transforming grace in the manger of your mess.

This year could be a wondrous adventure of faith transforming the very core of your being--if you will not only allow grace to be birthed within you, but also to grow beyond the manger.