The Way of the Manger

I love Christmas music!

I never get into those discussions that begin right around Thanksgiving about the proper timing for the beginning of Christmas music season.

I pretty much listen to Christmas music year round, so I really don’t know what all the fuss is about.

Singing Let It Snow on a hot August Texas day has a strangely cooling effect (just try it!). I often find myself unconsciously humming Oh Come Let Us Adore Him during times of stress in the course of the year. I find the words peaceful and grounding, so why should it only be allowed during one month of the year?!

It seems every year I hear one Christmas-themed song that just resonates in my heart and soul.

Several seasons ago, a song by Francesca Battistelli became very popular.

The song was titled “Be Born in Me”.

The first time I heard it was absolutely mesmerized by the lyrics. I just felt there was a message among that melody that held the key to clarity and movement in my spiritual journey—kind of like finding a clue while on a treasure hunt.

The song is rich in symbolism and truth in describing Mary’s part in the birth of Christ as well as the relationship she would soon share with Him.

Looking deeper, it is also a representation of each of us and our own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

The phrase in the song “make my heart your Bethlehem” always stopped me in my tracks.

It got to the point that I would catch myself singing that phrase at the oddest times and in the strangest places.

I wanted to peel that phase back so I would not just hear the words, but would understand how to bring life to them.

How exactly does one “make their heart His Bethlehem?”

Surface imagery might possibly dictate that with Bethlehem being Jesus’ town of birth, we could also view our hearts as a symbolic birth place of Jesus as we come into relationship with Him.

As we discover who Jesus is as the Savior of the world, our hearts become prepared…softened…for Him to “birth” within us a new life as believers.

Perhaps what happens to those hearts is that they are forever marked by the “light of the world” in the same fashion that a huge star shone brightly over Bethlehem on that special night.

Luke 15:10 tells us that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” That sounds amazingly similar to the angels of the Christmas story who appeared as a heavenly host praising God as Jesus’ incarnation came to pass.

Make my heart Your Bethlehem!” Perhaps we are not so far removed from that ancient town.

Maybe we, as believers, have a connection to Bethlehem that speaks to the very spirit of us. In many ways the story of Bethlehem grounds us in truth and God’s grace.

But then I remembered that not all of Bethlehem was so welcoming to Mary and Joseph and thus Jesus.

As the young couple searched for a place to rest that night, they were turned away by many for a variety of very practical reasons.

It sounds wonderful to strive to make our hearts “a Bethlehem”. But if we did, would that allow us room to be less than welcoming to Jesus for a variety of, what we could justify to be, practical reasons?

Does the busyness of Bethlehem on that Holy Night represent what the Christmas season has turned into even for many believers? Was it a foreshadowing of how difficult it would be for us today to find peace and rest during a season we celebrate as Holy?

So where does that leave a heart that is truly seeking…needing….a Savior?

What can I “make” my heart so that it is fully prepared to embrace the Christ Child?

I pondered this question seeking an answer that would move me beyond Bethlehem.

Ironically, my prayers and pondering brought me to the foot of the manger.

I resisted at first, wanting to go to something bigger and brighter and well…better smelling.

But God in His infinite wisdom kept bringing me back to the foot of the manger. He seemed to want me to focus on that manger, so I did.

For all practical purposes, I would think the moment Jesus was born He was laid in the manger.

Now some might want to say He went straight into this mother’s arms, but come on, if we think about it after the birth Joseph probably wrapped the Baby up and set Him in the manger if only for a short few minutes while he tended to Mary.

Through this, we see that it was the manger that first held the Redeemer of the world even if it was for a brief moment.

We all know God can do anything anyway He chooses, yet for some reason He chose a manger to play an unappreciated but vital role in the whole birth process.

God prepared a manger for His Son to spend the first few moments of His life on earth as one of us! The manger became foundational in the life of Baby Jesus.

Make my heart Your MANGER!”

With our hearts as mangers, as opposed to Bethlehems, we find ourselves with a lot less wiggle room when receiving Jesus.

The manger couldn’t be part way in or part way out like Bethlehem distinguished itself to be.

During Mary’s birthing process, Bethlehem allowed a small, out-of-the-mainstream place for Jesus to reside. Jesus wasn’t given a prominent place in the town. Technically He was there, but Bethlehem and its people placed boundaries on Him.

Perhaps this foreshadowed the spiritual boundaries many placed on Him in the course of His earthly ministry.

But, the manger was ALL IN! The manger received and embraced the entire Christ Child!

Jesus filled it and forever left it as a symbol to us to open our lives and hearts to the gift that God so graciously bestowed to the world on that night.

So this Christmas season, I stand at the foot of the manger. Yes, to admire the child that it held, but also to acknowledge my responsibility to “make my heart His manger.”

But what might that look like?

We all might need to ponder that within the reality of our own circumstances.

Maybe a good place to start is with our words of Advent: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

As we challenge ourselves to line our hearts (mangers!) with these words, they truly begin to transcend the Advent season and lead us into a transformed heart-set.

A heart-set that is open, welcoming and seeking the Savior in such a way that our hearts are prepared to hold Jesus in a new, maybe unimaginable, way similar to the new role that old, messy manger in Bethlehem was given.

I now think the manger is the most important and best part of the Nativity scene!

Just think of what it represents…

If God trusted an old, messy, makeshift manger to hold His Son, just imagine how He will prepare our hearts if we allow Him too!

Here is a challenge for the coming year. Will the manger get packed away with the rest of our “Christmas Spirit” as the season comes to an end?

Or, can we somehow draw ourselves all the way back to the manger when difficult times come in the next year?
Will we invite Jesus into a prominent place in our hearts and lives?

In the midst of crisis, will we find a way to focus on “making our hearts His manger” so we are prepared to receive the peace and joy He promised us regardless of circumstances?

In the peaceful times of our lives, will we remember to enjoy the peace and rest only He can afford us?

Will we be a busy Bethlehem or a receiving manger?

As believers, I trust we are all called to be mangers, first to hold the precious gift of Jesus, then to provide a bit of a sanctuary to a hurting world.

If our hearts are full of the glory of that Holy night centuries ago in Bethlehem, then the light and praise of that night carries forth to this very day. How blessed we are that the God of the entire universe and the Savior of the world have chosen us to love and cherish forever!

He not only invites us to “make our Hearts His manger”, but He will fill us to overflowing with His Grace and Mercy!

Praying your Christmas is Joyful and Blessed beyond measure!

In the New Year, may your manger overflow in ways beyond what you could hope for or even imagine!

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