Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Stable -- A Symbol of Hope

For the past few years I have tried to look at different aspects of the Christmas story to keep the spirit of Christmas ever fresh in my mind. This year, my focus has been on the lowly stable where Christ was born. This stable brings up many questions in my mind.

What was the stable like? In various nativity scenes the stable is portrayed as a quiet, quaint, and almost sacred place. But I don’t think this romanticized view of this wretched place does justice to the lesson God is trying to teach.

image Rather than a place worthy of the birth of the King of Kings, the stable was likely a cave filled with soiled hay. It was probably cleaned out infrequently but even after this cleaning, it wreaked of decades of dirty animals.

My guess is the air in the stable was heavy, difficult to breath, and filled with flies. The ground as always damp an covered with saturated hay. There as a constant scurrying about of rodents.I can imagine that prior to entering this stable, people would take a deep in order to avoid breathing in this putrid air. This was not a place fit for humans.

Why would the Father choose the stable to be the birthplace for His Son?

image Jesus was a new-born baby. He had no recollection of the stable. So, the stable could hold no lesson for Him.

image Joseph clearly understood the importance of Mary’s child. To help him avoid breaking off their engagement, an angel appeared to him. From that point on, Joseph did all he could to protect Mary and to ease her great burden. I assume that Joseph felt only guilt for not finding a more suitable place for this sacred Child to be born.There was no lesson here for him.

image Mary needed no more lessons on humility or submission. For nine months she bore the shame of being an unwed mother and almost lost the opportunity to marry the man she loved. That Mary so willingly accepted this inhospitable place to bring her Child into this world is a testament of her great humility and her willingness to submit to all the will of the Lord.

No, I don’t think the stable held any vital lessons for Jesus, Joseph, or Mary.Rather, I believe the stable is an important symbol for anyone seeking to be a disciple of Christ.

What can we learn from the stable?

image I feel the most important lesson we can learn for this wretched stable is that our personal pathway to eternal life pass right through that most horrible place. Our mortal experience is symbolized in this most lowly of stables.

Each of us is beloved child of God. Yet, in spite of our birthright, we are all sent to this fallen earth awash in filth and grime. Mortality is our stable. None of us will come through this experience unscathed. But we are not without hope.

Because of the Christ-child, we can all be cleansed from the seemingly indelible stains of mortality. There is no sin we can commit nor pain we must endure that cannot be lifted by the selfless sacrifice of God’s beloved son.

image This is the message heralded by the angel announcing the birth to the shepherds:

Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

I urge each of you to follow the shepherds and come with haste to worship the Son. Let Him bind up your wounds and dry your tears. That ancient stable blessed to be the birthplace of our Savior is our message of hope.

To Touch the Face of God

We have all been hurt by the tragic events that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary school yesterday. It will be difficult, if not impossible to make sense of this tragedy. We may never understand why this young man with a troubled mind would act so brutally and callously against those who did him no wrong.

But we must be careful not to allow our hurt, our attempts toward empathy,and our profound sense of loss devolve into anger or hate. This will serve no purpose.

image These events reminded me of another time this nation, and its school children, faced a tragedy that left us reeling. On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger blasted off from Cape Kennedy bearing seven astronauts. Among them was a school teacher named Christa McAuliffe.

Because she had special permission from NASA to join the crew, school children from all around the world took a break from their classes to watch the space shuttle launch. Unbeknownst to all, an O-ring on one of the massive fuel tanks was damaged. As the super-hot gases ignited in the tank, this small device failed and flames tore through the exterior of the tank.

image Only 73 second into the flight, in front of the nation and its anxious school children, the space shuttle exploded killing all seven of its crew.

There was no way to shield the children from this tragedy. There was no way to prepare them for what they saw. Millions of children were stunned that day as was an entire nation.

That night, President Ronald Reagan appeared on national TV to help start the healing process. In, what I view as his finest moment, the President spoke to the nation and its children about the tragedy. He ended his speech from a line of the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee which reads:

“…[they] slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

As you seek to frame this tragedy in its proper context, I urge each of you to view this video from that speaks to the concept of tragedies and the hope that follows when we have an open heart. I pray that you will allow this message to reawaken the spirit of Christmas to speak peace to your souls.

Remember, it is in the midst of tragedy that we are more open to recognize the tender mercies of a loving Heavenly Father.