My face twisted in wild contortions as the unpleasant aromas assaulted every sense. Gamey odors of heavily toiled beasts drenched the once fresh air.
As the guttural neighs of penned up horses startled me back to the present, my vision became clear. I glanced over at my husband, still recovering from the wretched sight. His face flushed red with embarrassment at the condition of this dreadful place. “Honey, I am sorry.” “This is not what I had in mind.” I simply nodded, somewhat as a response but mostly as an acknowledgement of my own turmoil.
Struggling to move past the obvious rejection, embodied by our placement here, the questions seemed to shout their way from my heart to my brain. “Will this baby be warm enough?” “What clothes will he wear?” “Who is going to help me deliver this child?” “This can’t be right, can it?” “God’s holy child born in a musty old den?”
Just then, I could hear Joseph’s steady voice calling me. “Come lie down over here.” He had been scurrying around, gathering up enough hay to make a soft place upon which my laboring body could rest. He gently lowered me onto the makeshift bed and to my surprise there was a hint of softness in it. As I shifted in furious attempts to alleviate the growing ache in my lower back, Joseph was busily making preparations for this new gift we were about to receive.
The feeding trough in the center of the stable was overflowing with hay as Joseph freely robbed every creature of its vital necessity. “Well, I suppose we’ve done all we can do.” “Can you think of anything else?” My answer was a pain filled groan. As Joseph turned with the question still hanging from his lips, his eyes grew wide with the realization of this birth.
Suddenly, the glory of heaven ignited every crevice of that dingy brown barn as the darling of God breathed His first. The neighing horses, the bleating sheep all stood in perfect silence listening to their very Creator’s initial attempts at human breath. Joseph’s cheeks were flooded with tears as were mine.
I nestled our whimpering bundle close to my chest, his cries softening, his eyes giving way to newborn wonder at the sight of our faces. Together, Joseph and I discovered our baby boy. I was investigating fingers, he was investigating toes. I chuckled at how his earlobes were the hangy-down kind like mine. He grinned at the likeness in our noses. The joy in that room was overflowing.
The reality of His divine origins became increasingly apparent as unusual strangers found their way to our private dwelling of sorts. When most babies were receiving the necessities for everyday living ours was being showered with the royal gifts of frankincense and myrrh. Shepherds flocked to our sides kneeling down in humble adoration. The Bread of Life neatly wrapped in the feeding trough was already being served to those who were hungry for His Presence.
My heart burned with the question of “Why Here?” Surely, the son of God deserved a grander entrance complete with the finest of linens and adornments. All he had was a simple blanket with which to keep warm. As I studied the faces of the weary shepherds, it became clear.
He was not presented to the wealthy but to the willing. Gold trimmed palaces with private entrances could not contain Him. He was never meant to be closed in and barred off. His glory could only be revealed in the open spaces, even in the miry shadows of a wooden stable. No wonder Joseph was given such clear instruction regarding His name.
He would not bear the identity of an ordinary man for He was God in the flesh. His name not only defined who He was, but the entirety of His mission. His title was potent yet humble. With shaking hands, my sweet husband lifted up our beloved and declared Him, Emmanuel, God with us.
The shouts of our small clan roared so loudly, it seemed the rafters were trembling. Our small celebration of the Divine was only a shadow of the throng of voices hailing Him day and night as He now rests upon a victor’s throne.
No longer shrouded in dingy beginnings, His glory and triumph ring clear from age to age. He turned history on its ear as He led captivity captive and delivered all of us from all of our sin and all of the death sin longs to bring. Truly, He is Emmanuel, God with you and me.