It's a little after 7 am on the morning after Christmas. I am in a hotel room, husband and 3 big sprawling boys asleep all around, and I am trying to pray.
I manage, a little. But even after an hour and a half of wakefulness, this prayer time could be better called "distraction time."
There's no good reason for this. I am enjoying my vacation time with extended family. I'm not unhappy or upset about anything.
I'm not even down on myself about not being able to pray much. Religious performance anxiety is for people who are trying to earn something. I have no thoughts of earning anything.
I am thirsty, and I want a drink of Living Water.
I am Bethlehem. I am busy with life, with plans and activities and schedules and discipline issues and fatigue, and with political concerns looming as regularly unwelcome intruders in the mundanities of the day-to-day.
I am just Bethlehem, a sleepy little town of ordinary folks who have no worldly power, whose lives have been thrown into chaos by imperial decree, who are trying to navigate the channels of disruption so that they can get back to the not-so-comfortable Ordinary.
I have nothing special to make Jesus come to me.
But He comes anyway.
He comes because He doesn't come looking for the deserving. He comes for the undesirable, the clueless, the hardened, the proud, the weak.
And He shines a glorious light from Heaven to open their eyes - Our eyes - because otherwise we would miss Him altogether.
2 Corinthians 4:6
For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
If God had waited for Bethlehem to make itself ready for Him, He would be waiting still. But He came first, He broke the stillness, He gave the glorious announcement, and He gave Himself.
Only those whom He had prepared (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds) saw this as anything other than an ordinary birth, though a few might have wagged their heads and clucked their tongues at the shame of a cattle-stall delivery. If word spread at all, it was due to the wild story of the shepherds, babbling on about a Heavenly visitation.
That's why it was harder for them than for us to see something wonderful in that manger. The people in Bethlehem heard anguished labor cries and newborn wails vaguely intermingled with the bedlam of myriads of tired, disgruntled travelers. They smelled sweat and cattle. They saw flesh and blood and vernix, and it looked so ordinary.
God among them. And they had no idea.
It still takes a heavenly visitation to show us who Jesus really is. And it's still the most vital thing for us to see.
Humanity cannot be saved by a metaphor for human suffering, poverty, or moral struggle, but such a safe, sanitized sentimental Jesus is the only one most people are willing to think about. Safe, soppy, sentimental Jesus, however, doesn't exist.
Humanity can only be saved by the very unwelcome, intrusive, sovereign Savior that it's clueless about, blind to, rebellious against.
So He came. Not to give things like healing, peace, joy and an example to follow, but to show us that He Himself is our healing, our peace, our joy, our life. He came to open blinded eyes, to soften hard hearts, to turn rebels into loyal subjects.
He came to give us Himself, and in Himself to give us everything we truly need.
Most have never seen Him that way.
And even those of us who have seen Him, who have begun walking with Him, who are finding our lives more and more in Him... even we still have Bethlehem mornings when we unaware and unprepared. And EVERY morning is undeserving.
Yet He comes. He comes. Because that is who He is. God With Us, the Savior who has come into the world.
May God open your eyes to see Him, for the first time, or the thousandth.
Because God, in His inscrutable wisdom, has chosen to put treasure in clay pots.
I can't be a superstar, but I can be a pot.
Remember the story of Gideon, and how he and his rag-tag army took on the Midianites? Their lights were hidden in clay pots until the right moment, and then they smashed the pots to let the light shine. God then miraculously routed the enemy before them.
God has given me plenty of good hard whacks in my life, and at times I've felt like he's completely smashed me for good. Maybe one of His purposes for doing that is to let some light out.
I don't have any light of my own, but He is the light, and it's my hope that He'll shine through just a bit on these pages, "that the excellence of the power may be of God, and not of us."