Despite popular Christmas card pictures, the birth place of Jesus and the surroundings were dark and dirty. This was not the atmosphere the Jews expected as the birthplace of the Messiah King. In Luke 2:6, we read, “While they were there (in Bethlehem for the census) the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
This mention of the manger is the basis for the traditional belief that Jesus was born in a stable. Stables were often caves with feeding troughs (mangers) carved into the rock walls. Some animals aren’t allowed in the manger, only those with specifically important delicate and essential missions.
Mangers are animal shelters and are always a smelly mess due to the animals’ dirty coats and their dung. The unpleasantness of many of our own personal lives and circumstances stink and smell like the places where horses, cows, chickens, sheep, dogs and cats live. Perhaps, to God, many of our lives smell like the dung in a manger.
In physics, there is a law called “Entropy.” It states that from disorder comes order. Further, it is my belief, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., reminds us in the closing words of his final book, Where Do We go from Here: Chaos or Community, that “This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.”
Why can’t life be simple, clean, seamless and smooth all the time? In my opinion, it is because God fills life with many paradoxes. A quick look at several biblical examples and we can see how God shows up in the midst of His servants’ messes at just the perfect moment. For example, Elijah’s hiding (I Kings 19:9) in the wilderness and David’s life after his adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:25) and in His rescue of Saul from his persecution of the Christians (Acts 9:5): Out of such messy human situations, God brings order and draws each closer to Him, creating new life from their personal chaos.
God does His best work when we let Christ clean up the stench of our mangers. It seems in order for many to let Jesus in life must first be in a mess. In Proverbs (14:4), we read “Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest.” God, through Christ, cleans up our mangers and, from the mess, He creates an abundant harvest of good. In Romans (8:28), we learn, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, and who have been called according to His purpose.”
Although our first picture of Jesus as a baby is of a child in a manger, it must not be our last. The picture of the Christ child in a manger has now been transformed into a beautiful scene of humility and peace between humans, animals, the stars and the angels, all representing the harmony and peace of God’s heavenly universe.
We must not be afraid of our messy situations because from them can come an abundant harvest of good. Out of chaos God has brought, and always will bring, good for those who love Him and do His divine will. We mustn’t be afraid of life in the dirty and homeless shelters or of the people who live in them, for they, too, are God’s people. Perhaps this Christmas we can visit a homeless shelter and take a toy to child living in one. It just might be that for that child we are the ever- loving arms of Jesus and from such children we might feel Christ’s embrace of us.
Remember, we are all basically dirty animals living in a manger. Isn’t it interesting in the midst of a smelly manger God gave birth to His only begotten son and that, in the end, that child, Christ, became the “Light of the World” and God’s gift to us for our salvation?
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.