Each week, four prior to Christmas, we gather to light a candle and consider the coming of our savior, the birth of Jesus. It is a good time to focus on the real reason for merriment. This week we celebrate Joy.
I was listening to a sermon last Sunday and as soon as the pastor uttered the following line I did not hear another word. He was talking about the scenario we often envision when we think of the night of Jesus’s birth, you know….shepherds, Mary, Joseph, donkey, baby, hay filled manager…he said imagine the animals’ surprise when they looked in their food trough and saw a baby, surely they wondered “what’s this in our food?” and at those words my mind began to tumble with all sorts of images. I pictured Jesus as the prize in a box of cracker jacks, or a new “special marshmallow surprise” in Lucky Charms cereal. I know, I know…this was not what he meant, but I could not help myself.
I am thankful that those animals had such a special food additive that night. I could not help wondering if my life were a manger, what would they have found there?
I was moved to think of the times I have replaced Jesus with other things…..I suddenly had images of this running in my head. Picture a hay filled manger…you peer over its edge expecting a sweet baby wrapped in swaddling clothes…and instead there is a television, books and food all piled in there. Admittedly, these are just a few of the things that have had my attention more than Jesus some days.
Perhaps the most disturbing image that filled my head, as the pastor continued the sermon I was no longer listening to, was of this same manger scene, only now nestled in the hay filled trough you’d find ME. Trust me, it was NOT a pretty image. Sometimes I replace Jesus with myself. I know that sounds horrible, and it is, but I do not think I am alone. It is easy to try and live life under our own power. We want things to go a certain way, we want situations to make sense to us, we want to please others, or we want to be better…trusting ourselves and not our savior.
As I shook the unwelcome and mind scaring image from my head, I began to pray, “Lord, help me to honor You with my life. Jesus, forgive me for setting anything above You or replacing You with my worthless efforts. Lord, it is in You I find grace, and through You I know peace, love and joy. Lord, I KNOW that it is only because YOU were in that manger, that I do not have to bear the burden of my sin.”
You see, THAT is what the angels declared that night to the shepherds,
“…for behold, I bring you good news of a GREAT JOY which shall be for all people; ” Luke 2:10…
The good news is that we do not have to be in the manger…in our place Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and rose again so that we can come before a Holy God seeking forgiveness and finding love and grace.