Advent Devotional: The Way In A Manger

Jon Kennedy recounts a story about two Americans who were asked to come to Ukraine and teach a series of classes on morals and ethics to community leaders and children.  The teachers were also told they could teach these lessons from the worldview of their faith.

One particularly poignant moment on their trip came while teaching at a Ukrainian orphanage.  According to one of the teachers, there were about 100 boys and girls in the orphanage. These were children who had been abandoned, abused and left in the care of a government run program.  The teacher tells the story of the approaching holiday season, and how for the first time many of the orphans had a chance to hear the true story of Christmas.

“We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

“Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

“The orphans were busy assembling their mangers as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat – he looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger.

“Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at his completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had heard the Christmas story only once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

“Then Misha started to ad lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, ‘And when Mary laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him – for always.’

“As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – for always.”

Little Misha was on to something!

One of the names of Jesus that we recall around the holiday season is “Immanuel” which means, “God is with us.” It is a wonderful reminder that the name is not just for the holidays. The Son of God, Jesus Christ will never abandon or abuse us, but will always stay with us.

Jesus is with us:

  • When life is rosy and good times are rolling and when life becomes stinky and the bad times are roiling;
  • When the grade on the report card is an “F” instead of an “A”;
  • When the spouse who promised themselves faithful is found in an illicit affair;
  • When the dream of success is downsized and diminished;
  • When the phone rings in the middle of the cold, dark night;
  • When the family harmony is drowned out in a shouting match;
  • When the loneliness of singleness is highlighted by another Christmas alone;
  • When the pain of sin and shame makes us run from Him.

In every discouraging, disgusting and disillusioning situation, Jesus is with us.  We often miss it but he is there. If you are like me, you especially miss it sometimes during the holiday season. There are many things that threaten to separate us from the Christ child.

One of the biggest reasons is blindness.  We just don’t see the manger.  In our frantic search for comfort and joy, we end up looking for love in all the wrong places.  There is only one place where we can find unconditional acceptance and unending peace—the manger.  It is only in an intimate relationship with Jesus that we discover how truly valuable we are—children of God!

Another problem is our busyness.  We don’t have time for the manger.  This time of year is marked by endless appointments, school concerts, church pageants, shopping excursions and elaborate decorations.  In the crush of the season we crowd out the crèche. How much time do we spend keeping him warm?

We also face the issue of belief.  We don’t believe in the manger.  The world is so sinful and evil abounds.  What chance does a baby in a manger have against suicide bombers, chemical weapons, machine-gun toting terrorists and dictatorial regimes?  It doesn’t look like a fair fight. But no single life has ever changed the world more than the life of this baby born in Bethlehem. It is a life that challenges us all to look beyond the evil of this world and look to the eternal kingdom of God.

Jesus invites us to join him in the manger.  Join him not just for the purpose of enjoying him but also to share him.  We can share Jesus in many ways:

  • Adopt a disadvantaged family this Christmas;
  • Forego your gifts and give the gift of yourself and your time to a worthy cause on Christmas Day;
  • Promise to pray in a more consistent and spirit-led way for peace in our world;
  • Spend time with a widow or the fatherless;
  • Commit to teaching in our children’s programs next year;
  • Ponder how best to live out your belief in the workplace;
  • Begin a daily prayer and Bible study plan.

Let’s enjoy him and share him this holiday season, and every season.

Merry Christmas!

Love,

Kent

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