“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1). From nothing, God brings forth something wonderful. From a stump that appeared to be dead sprang the most beautiful shoot of life: Jesus.
“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:5). There is so much I don’t understand about Jesus. I think I’ve had a cleaned-up picture of His birth in my mind for all these years because I can’t imagine my Savior being born in such a human way. Surely God would have cleaned up the stable a bit, right? He certainly wouldn’t have wanted His Son to be born in filth. Don’t you think God would have removed all the animal spit germs from the manger before He allowed Jesus to lie there? It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around Jesus’ complete humanness. But the truth is, the Son of God laid where dirty animals put their mouths. Jesus was vulnerable to the grime of a stable and the smell of manure. I guess I never wanted to imagine the reality of the mess.
I shield my eyes from the cross as well. I find myself believing that God couldn’t have meant for it to be that gruesome. Maybe He helped Jesus with some supernatural pain management. It didn’t actually hurt that bad, did it? But the truth is, as much as I try to shield myself from believing in pain, Jesus refused to shield Himself from it. He entered into the pain, the horror, and the filth of His life and death. He refused the wine mixed with gall (Matthew 27:34) that might have eased his suffering a bit or ended it sooner. I struggle to grasp that He fully and willingly entered into humanity.
Why would God do all of this for me? Zechariah tells us in Luke that God sent Jesus “to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:74-75). “because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:78-79). I love the part that says He did it to enable us to serve without fear. Because of Jesus, we are no longer bound by the Law. Because of His ultimate sacrifice, we don’t have to live in constant guilt and offer countless sacrifices. God, in His tender mercy, sees us in our dark and death-like places and He doesn’t turn away. Instead, He pours out His grace. He has removed our guilt once and for all so that we are are free to serve Him in peace, not fear.
It’s important for me to uncover my eyes and gaze upon this truth if I am ever to believe that Jesus enters the stench and sin of my own heart. I need to see Him as a vulnerable infant lying on animal spit with the smell of manure wafting over Him if I am ever to believe that He cares about my vulnerability. I need to stare Jesus in his agonized face on the cross if I am ever to believe that He could enter into my own pain. I need to believe in Jesus’ humanness and sacrificial love for me if I am ever to have the peace that God intended. I need to understand that God will never turn away from my heart no matter how dark I feel it is. He springs forth beautiful shoots of life where I see only death. God brought about the highest good from the greatest pain and He will bring about my greatest possible good from my own pain.
God didn’t change the time of the census so a very pregnant Mary could give birth in comfort. He didn’t make room in an inn so that His Son wouldn’t have to be born in a stable. He didn’t clean up the stable and He didn’t skip the messiness of human birth. He didn’t take away the pain and horror of the cross. Jesus did not shield Himself from the agony and vulnerability of His human life and He does not shield Himself from ours. This Christmas, I pray for a greater understanding of what God did for us. I pray for us to embrace the reality of our mess and open our eyes to see Jesus in it. I pray for the wholehearted belief that God, in His tender mercy, still enters our misery and pours out His grace. I pray for the courage to look Jesus in His agonized face and cry, “Thank You.”
Song I’m Feeling: It’s About the Cross, by Go Fish
“It’s about God’s Love nailed to a tree. It’s about every drop of blood that flowed from Him when it should have been me.”