One Night

Recycled boards fashioned into a crude feeding trough for the animals.

Requisitioned, a manger. Stuffed with hay harvested the previous summer. A cow belches methane gas, shit on the floor, a pungent odor in the air. One donkey, perhaps clucking chickens. The shelter a crude structure with chinks in the boards. Uninvited cold air squeezes through to escape its own winter chill, breathing hard and damp. A teenage girl pants, shoves, and screams. Her fumbling fiancé cuts the messy umbilical cord and announces the arrival of a boy. Three of them huddle for warmth in the flicker of a solitary lamp. The newborn suckles noisily, mother exhausted, father – who knows what the story is?

Before long a shuffling outside, whispers, and then a knock on the side wall. Muttering, Joseph appears from behind a pile of stuff they had pushed together to create flimsy protection from the elements. Twelve eyes stare at him from unwashed bearded faces, some young, some old. One of the older men nods and smiles. “We have come to see the king.”

“What king?” Joseph frowns. This is all he needs. The last few months have been a rollercoaster, he wasn’t one to draw attention. He loved working in his shop, forming wood into shapes and functional things as his father had taught him from when he was barely able to stand. He’d always noticed Mary from afar in the village but he wasn’t good with conversation. Their parents had arranged the marriage. They spent awkward hours together shyly navigating this unfamiliar new chapter, relationship. Then there were dreams, Mary’s confession of pregnancy, talk of visions and God. Joseph’s beating heart and shattered hopes betrayed. His knee-jerk response to end and reject, walk away, have nothing more to do with her. Until his dream. He usually dozed in synagogue. God speaking was the last thing he expected. The voice in his dream comforted and scared him wide awake in the middle of the night. By the next morning he knew Mary’s truth for himself. But understanding and explaining? No idea.

The cry of a baby crawled up behind Joseph as the men before him smiled and nodded among themselves. They explained about angels appearing in their field as they were tending sheep. A bright light, the sound of many voices, fear paralyzing them. The reassurance to not be afraid, good news of great joy, peace on earth, tonight, in Bethlehem, a king is born. Go, see for yourselves.

So here they were. The night God’s beloved son was born, among us, as one of us, unobtrusive, not looking anything like a savior of the world.

How people arrive says a lot about them, their stature, their status, their wealth, their prestige. The Queen arrives in a carriage, the Rolling Stones in an entourage of chauffeur-driven limousines, Tiger Woods in a private jet, the Pope in his ‘Pope-mobile’ with armor plated glass, Donald Trump down a golden escalator. All have bodyguards, layers of protection and mechanisms in place for crowd control. Behold the elite have come, we lesser mortals part the way and bow down.

From the very beginning, first breath, first night, Jesus was different. Vulnerable, no privileges, no castles or wealth or bling to impress. No affluent posturing to intimidate. Mother an unknown peasant teenager, foster dad an illiterate carpenter, welcome party an equally illiterate group of shepherds smelling like the stable. This first night set the tone for the rest of his life on earth, and far beyond, reaching to you and me, now. Meaning?

Imagine receiving an invitation from the most famous person in the whole word that you admired but never thought you would meet? How you would feel? What would you tell your friends? It would be like a dream, a wish fulfilled, the opportunity and experience of a lifetime – all expenses paid.

Privilege is deeply entrenched in our psyche and culture. Few of us are invited into the inner sanctum of wealth, prestige, political power, and luxury; ‘Us and Them’. It was the same when Jesus was born. The political power of the Romans, the affluence of the ruling class, the wealth of tax-collectors, the iron fist control of the religious leaders from Temple to Synagogue. God, whether Jewish, Greek, or Roman, was distant and handled by a variety of ‘gatekeepers better than you’. Love was not in the vocabulary. Religion was power, obedience, submission, superstition – demanding actions at feasts to appease, please, and stay the hand of the deity from crushing in displeasure.

No-one suspected a baby in Bethlehem, of all places, to be the light of the world. God, sidelining all the important people posturing in his name, to embrace those at the very bottom of the food chain as his beloved children, his very own. And to fulfil his mission to raise them up and create all equal, as was always intended before the rebellion.

Everything changed that first night. Counterbalanced with nothing seems to have changed. Humanity has never sat easy with God born in a crude manger. We have layered the site with marble and silver, spotless and clean, guards at the doors from Bethlehem(birth) to Gethsemane(betrayal) to Golgotha(crucifixion). Disciples work hard to present with similar perfection and spotless behavior. Some are more important than others. Education, status, likes on Facebook, conferences, books, music sales, itinerary, private jets, best hotels, denominations, global reach, Instagram, Spotify, Twitter, being seen and known.

Is there room in the Inn for the broken, the lost, the lonely, the ordinary, the imperfect, the sinner, the one who has repented and fallen a thousand times? Is there room for the hypocrite, the one who looks good and spiritual on the outside but if anyone knew my secret what then – that person?

The greatest news for all time is that God has always made the journey toward the loneliest, the dirtiest, the least deserving. It’s not ‘come as you are’. Instead he comes to us wherever we are, however we are, no matter what. Not just once, but all the time. Whether we should know better or not. He never gives up, never lets go, never turns away, never is disillusioned, angry, or at his wits end about us. None of us deserve anything. It is grace from birth to resurrection.

Be embraced by the love of Jesus this Christmas. He has done everything possible to come alongside us no matter how many questions we have, how much disillusionment clings like fungus to our memories. No matter how far we have strayed or how much we have strived to ‘be acceptable’ on our own. You are invited, you are welcomed, you are embraced, you are enough. It is so frighteningly easy to allow others, circumstances, insecurities, and personal failures to steal this truth from us. I know, it challenges me every day. But those are lies. Truth is the best and only antidote for personal identity, purpose and meaning. It sparked into flame in a stable in Bethlehem. Not even death could extinguish it from the face of the earth.

Truth is Jesus. His life, his teaching, his death, his resurrection, the gift of his Spirit, his love poured out on all humanity for all time. It never changes. Come to me all who are weak and heavy laden, all who are filled with self-importance, all who are beggars or kings, all who are rich or poor, all who have succeeded (in part), all who have failed (not as much as they might think), all who have, and all who have not. The vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Come to me, and I will give you rest, and peace, and life, and joy, forgiveness, healing, and hope. You are invited, again, and again, and again, and again.

Light Of The World (Sing Hallelujah)

We the Kingdom

Light of the world
Treasure of heaven
Brilliant like the stars
In the wintery sky
Joy of the father
Reach through the darkness
Shine across the earth
Send the shadows to flight

Light of the world
From the beginning
The tragedies of time
Were no match for your love
From great heights of glory
You saw my story
God you entered in
And became one of us

Sing hallelujah
Sing hallelujah
Sing hallelujah
For the things he has done
Come and adore him
Bow down before him
Sing hallelujah
To the light of the world

Light of the world
Crown in a manger
Born for the cross
To suffer, to save
High king of heaven
Death is the poorer
We are the richer
By the price that he paid

Sing hallelujah
Sing hallelujah
Sing hallelujah
For the things he has done
Come and adore him
Bow down before him
Sing hallelujah
To the light of the world

You’re the light of the world
Light of the world
Soon will be coming
With fire in his eyes
He will ransom his own
Through clouds he will lead us
Straight into glory
And there he shall reign
Forevermore
Forevermore

Sing hallelujah
Sing hallelujah
Sing hallelujah
For the things he has done
Come and adore him
Bow down before him
And sing hallelujah
To the light of the world
The light of the worldSource: Musixmatch

Songwriters: Andrew Bergthold / Edmond Martin Cash / Franni Cash / Martin Cash / Scott Mctyeire CashLight Of The World (Sing Hallelujah) lyrics © Capitol Cmg Paragon, Capitol Cmg Genesis, We The Kingdom Music, Bay 19

John Cox

Christian Author

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