I imagine the night as cold and bustling, noisy and confused. It might feel like the stereotypical family vacation: tired children, stressed mamas, frustrated fathers. It probably didn’t sound like silence, look like glittering candlelight, feel like a fireside. Welcome to our world, Jesus.
For the many, many years that prophets had told of Him, you would think the world would have been better prepared. Glistening garlands, choruses of carols, abundant presents, and above all, lives scrubbed clean for the arrival of a Messiah. But just like the last-minute shoppers, the impatient workers, the frustrated families, the people weren’t ready. God knew; there was no facade of preparation and perfection that could trick His omniscient eye. He knew, and He sent Jesus anyway.
God knew that Jesus was coming to a stable, not a palace. He knew that His first bed would be a manger, not a crib. He knew that Jesus would be denied, hated, discounted, and betrayed. He knew, and He sent Jesus anyway. As Chris Rice sings, He “wraps our injured flesh around Him”, “Breathes our air and walks our sod”. He is with us, among us, one of us, but Holy. Oh, so Holy.
Today, not much has changed. He knows our world is broken, violent, ambivalent. He knows my heart is selfish and self-righteous. He sees my unpreparedness, and He gives me Jesus anyway. Like the neighbor with no pretense, He invites himself into our mess, if we are willing. And, whether ignored or rejected, He keeps offering to walk among us, with us, beside us.
It feels fitting that the first Christmas was housed in a stable. Because really, our lives are so much more like stables than palaces. At best, mundane and simple; at worst, dirty and unkempt. And at the center of it all, God births Holiness right onto the earth. He knew how badly we needed Him. And He knew that no matter how long He waited, the world would not be ready. How could we be? Yet here He is. Emmanuel. God with us. The most timely gifts come at the most unexpected moments, and the most needed presents are often the most surprising. God doesn’t wait for us to ask for what we need; He knows, just like He knew then.