Grace In a Manger

J0409250 Christmas is happy, Easter is hard.

At least, that’s how I thought about it when I was younger.

Christmas, I thought, was the cheery holiday that evoked images of a sweet baby Jesus, a manger full of fresh-smelling hay, joyful shepherds, a glorious star and a partridge in a pear tree.

The real theological meat was diced at Easter, I believed.  Easter was about blood, death, and victory won only through the harshest pain.  Easter was about sanctification and propitiation and all those other "-ation" words that my pastor is supposed to explain to me.

And so, in my simple little head, Christmas was happy, Easter was hard.  At Christmas, we could just sit back and not think too hard, sip our egg nog, and gaze at our happy little nativity scene in which Mary looks all clean and regal, not like a scared young teenager who just went through labor next to a cow.

That was then.  I’ve been around the block a few times now.  I don’t see Christmas in quite the same way.

I look around and see homeless people and sick children and crooked politicians and hungry nations and angry young people and bitter old people…and I wonder why on earth Someone would leave Perfection for such a dirty old planet as this?

I know we needed a Savior, and desperately, but to choose to come?  To enter humanity at its dirtiest–poor parents in a barn, of all places–to endure the hardest parts of being human with only the promise of the pain of ultimate sacrifice?

Maybe Christmas isn’t easy after all.  Maybe it’s as gritty and earthy as the darkest moment on the cross. 

But OH, is it ever beautiful.  It’s as beautiful as any Easter sunrise, as victorious as a heavy stone pushed away from a tomb.

In one glorious, cosmic, explosive moment, the God of our Universe leapt into our messed-up world.  Victory wrapped in swaddling clothes. 

Hope nursing at His mother’s breast. 

Grace in a manger.

95 thoughts on “Grace In a Manger

  1. Amy says:

    So true! It is “easy” to get caught up in the “beauty” that we see at Christmas and put aside the human(ness)of the experience. Beautiful post.

  2. stacy says:

    Beautiful Shannon. My husband is our intrim youth pastor at our church, and last night he was stressing to the kids to think of the reason Jesus came and not just that he was born. Thank you for reminding people that Jesus didn’t have a cake walk when he got here and that he knew it would be that way before he came.

  3. Edi says:

    Your comment “Hope nursing at His Mother’s Breast”, reminded me of the Christmas song I heard sung for the first time last year…”Mary Did You Know” and the part…
    “Mary, did you know That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?…Did you know That your baby boy has walked where angels trod? And when you kiss your little boy, YOU’VE KISSED THE FACE OF GOD.”

  4. Erica (A Yankee In Jawja) says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful gift of writing. You’ve formed words to what I can only feel.
    God bless.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful reminder that the Incarnation was also the humiliation of Christ. I like those “tion” words. :). Thank you for this post!

  6. Girlymom says:

    Watching the news I have noticed alot more stories about break ins and robberies, does our greedy need to have “stuff” really drive people to do these criminal acts…for the sake of Xmas? Isn’t this disturbing? I have been trying to encourage the true meaning of Xmas with my children, it’s hard sometimes when Santa and sale adds are crammed in your face.

  7. nicole says:

    That is beautifully written. Even as a child Easter was my favorite holy day. The rejoicing on Easter seems much more hard-won, although I couldn’t put that thought into words as a child. As a Catholic, the liturgy of the Mass during each season has really influenced my experience of the holy days. What is so beautiful about Easter to me is that we once again sing the Gloria and the Alleluia that we don’t sing during Lent. Nothing like a rousing Alleluia chorus to get to the heart of what it is all about.

  8. Activities Coordinator says:

    As an adult, I finally get the concept of Advent. As a child, it was a fun season of dreaming about toys. Now, I realize, it is a lifetime of waiting, pondering, hoping and preparing that we publically recognize once a year.
    Good post, Shannon.

  9. Ronnica says:

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately (which is probably why every Christmas post I’ve written comes back to this very point). I can’t stop thinking about the glorious fact that God chose to take on human flesh and live among sinners that He could fellowship with US.

  10. Ornery's Wife says:

    Lovely. Well written, and so true. Your comment about choosing to leave that perfection is just another of the signs of His unimaginable love for me (and all of mankind) in that while we were still vile, filthy sinners he loved us enough to leave that perfect setting and face all He went through so we wouldn’t have to. THAT is true love! It is still beyond my comprehension as to why anyone would not choose to accept love like that, but God, in His infinite wisdom, gave us all a choice.
    Thank you for this thoughtful post! TM

  11. Rebecca says:

    Thank you for such an eloquently written reminder of the true meaning of Christmas. Praise be to God for His indescribable gift!

  12. Pearl says:

    What a beautiful essay on Christmas! It truly made my Christmas this year. Thank you so much for sharing your heart.
    One in the Body~ Pearl

  13. Kelly says:

    Wow Shannon, that was beautifully written. You have such a gift. It is wonderful you are using it for His glory. Blessings! Kelly

  14. pam says:

    Echoes of Max Lucado here, Shannon. That’s how good this is!
    You are quite, quite talented, and I agree with Kelly above . . . so wonderful you are using it for His glory.
    I am so glad I found you way back when you were still “Brooke” and trying to establish your identity out here in Blogland.
    Somehow I think that is no longer a problem. Love to you and yours this precious season.
    Pam

  15. Allison says:

    you have brought me to tears in the most wonderful way this morning. thank you for all the things you share on this site and for giving encouragement to those of us who frequent here. God bless you and your family this season and always!

  16. Trina says:

    This is the message I didn’t get until just a few years ago after I had children, even though I was a Christian. The movie The Nativity Story really helped to bring out the reality of the Christmas story for me even more. The love that Christ had for us to leave Perfection and humble himself and come in the most vulerable form (a baby) and in the lowest of places (a stable) is astounding to me. After I left the theater that night, I sat in my car and cried as the reality of it all sank in.
    Thanks for this post Shannon. I hope believers and nonbelievers alike are awakened by the truth contained in it.

  17. MaryLu says:

    “Grace in a Manger”
    That’s it isn’t it? It seems unfathomable that He would choose to put on humanity, all the time knowing what would happen on that cross.
    That is what makes our Salvation so amazing. He did it, fully knowing the penalty of our sin.
    Thanks for sharing.

  18. kimberly says:

    I’ve always felt that Easter is every bit as important and joyful as Christmas. He was born in a stable, lived a humble life of servitude and perfect love, then rose above the pain and the agony and became the Redeemer and Savior of the world. How beautiful and wonderful! The Atonement is the most beautiful part of Christianity, and if not for Easter, there would be no Christmas. I believe we should rejoice in all things that honor our Savior: his birth, his ministry, his sacrifice and resurrection. Thank you for posting a spiritual message today.

  19. Shalee says:

    Eloquent and perfect, Shannon.
    Side note, but it really does fit: I’ve always love this idea from Jeff Walling: the MESSiah came to enter into our MESSES and bring us hope and healing. And you can’t tell me he didn’t know about messes; in his lineage, he had a woman who was a liar and pretended to be a prostitute – Tamar, a prostitute – Rahab, a foreigner – Ruth, and he came through an adulterous union – David and Bathsheeba. He knew and lived our kind a messes from first-hand experience and still he loved with a love so deep that it eventually (yet with a pre-planned purpose) killed him on a cross. Mind-boggling and incomprehensible, but beautiful to its core.
    Thanks for this timely reminder of what the day meant not only to us, but to Jesus as well.

  20. Stacey says:

    What a blessing this post is, Praise God!
    Well written and profound!
    I plan to share a link of this with others, just to pass on the Joy and Hope of the Season!
    Thank You!

  21. Brandi says:

    Beautifully put Shannon. You graced the computer screen with the true Holiday Spirit. Thanks for the reminder…..we all need it from time to time.

  22. Lori Leigh says:

    Wow! I loved that! Very thought provoking and beautiful! Thank you for sharing your thought! Have a blessed Christmas!

  23. Stephanie says:

    From a new-ish Christian, who has been struggling for several months, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for bringing me closer to Him again.

  24. Nancy says:

    That was so beautifully written. Thank you. I hope you don’t mind if I link to it, because I’m sure I could never express my feelings like that in words.

  25. Jenny W says:

    Long-time lurker here. I love your site btw. After reading this particular post, I just HAD to finally write. Thank you so much for writing down what I have been feeling – and doing it so much better than I could. =0)

  26. Lucy says:

    This was absolutely beautiful!
    In the Eastern Orthodox church, Nativity is almost as big as Easter. There’s a Lenten 40 day fast before and people make more effort to be at as many church services as possible. The readings during the services are filled with references to Jesus’ death and resurrection, as well as many readings about Mary and her faithfulness to the Lord. My favorite icon of Mary is often referred to by the names Sweet Kissing, Lovingkindness and Tenderness: It’s of Mary holding the infant Jesus high up on her chest, and Jesus is turning his face up to hers so that they are cheek to cheek, almost kissing. No matter who it’s painted by, this icon always communicates the love of the mother and child for each other. Yet her face also appears troubled, because she knows that he has come for the salvation of the world. Mary knew the prophesies about the Savior. How hard it must have been for her to keep both his God-ness and his child-ness in her heart!
    You’re so right. The Nativity is gritty. But like the Psalmist says, “if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.” Thankfully, God can handle grit. πŸ™‚

  27. Ericka says:

    Thank you Shannon. Very true and beautiful…….
    Hope it’s ok if I link to it from my site, I have a few readers who could use the imagery and I’m not that expressive πŸ™‚

  28. Sarah says:

    “…not like a scared young teenager who just went through labor next to a cow.”
    I love this! The reality of Christmas exposes what we as humans can see, but what about what we cannot see and cannot even concieve of? What was grieving the Heavenly Father’s heart as he witnessed his only son being born into a barn? How much did it pain Him knowing what the purpose of that birth was? May we mature into the knowledge that we may never know this side of heaven the true price of that sacrifice.
    Beautiful post, thank you.

  29. Sandy says:

    I don’t see Christmas as easy either, Shannon. The older I get the more pain I see … but you are right! It’s beautiful – and that is what we have to keep our eyes on.
    Thank you for sharing!

  30. Andrea says:

    I’m crying – it was so beautifully stated, Shannon. I am, once again , reminded of His amazing PLAN – which included so much sacrifice on His part. Amen!

  31. Dee/reddirtramblings says:

    Some of your post was pure poetry. “Hope nursing at His mother’s breast.” Wow, and I call myself a writer. You have a gift red dirt sister. Keep on writing. And, Merry “Earthy” Christmas. Amen.

  32. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    I’ve been thinking about this post all week, Shannon. It resonates with many things I’ve been learning lately. Thank you for writing His truth. You are using your gift, my friend.

  33. jay says:

    Eloquent work. It reminded me of a quote I recently saw in a book on Aquinas that described the incarnation as “salvation by surpirise”. Who would have ever guessed?!

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