… and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2: 7
The room was unfamiliar, the bed uncomfortable, and I was was awake … again. While Christmas carols were running through my head, the noises of the city continued to shatter the silence, despite the fact that it was 2:30 in the morning.
We weren’t supposed to be here. We were supposed to be in St. Louis with my parents, sleeping soundly in the house where I was raised, surrounded by Christmas sights, sounds, and smells, our bellies full of my mom’s great cooking. Unlike the hearth and the warm crackling of the fires my dad was so good at building, the hotel radiator turned itself on and off intermittently with a clanging sound, usually just about the time I was about to fall back asleep… So, I lay awake, feeling sorry for us.
We had arrived at the airport, two hours early at my husband’s insistence, only to find that our flight had been delayed two hours. Even my exhausted brain could calculate that we had been stuck at the airport for four solid hours, trying to entertain two small, restless children surrounded by adults with short tempers, harsh voices, and stress overload. The atmosphere was not exactly jolly, although we had succeeded in singing carols with the little ones for a brief time before my scratchy throat gave out. (The traditional Christmas cold was right on schedule.)
Our connecting flight had been canceled due to increasingly hostile weather, and the airlines had been forced to put up a multitude of disgruntled travelers in local hotels. So here we were.
As the radiator clanged on yet again, I lay there thinking how unfair it was to be waylaid on our way to gather with family for a time of togetherness and celebration. The high hopes of how wonderful it was going to be only made the disappointment more bitter. My mental picture of Christmas somewhere between Currier and Ives and Norman Rockwell, contrasted with this drab hotel in the middle of a cold, noisy city – What could be worse?
The moment I posed the silent question, I was humbled; I knew the answer:
Imagine being nine months pregnant and learning you had to make a long journey on foot (OK, maybe a donkey, although the Bible doesn’t mention a donkey specifically). And imagine that journey was not in order to be with family and friends, but to pay taxes – taxes you could ill afford – in a strange town where everyone else was heading, and at the pace you were going, you were bound to get there last, and every room would be taken. Imagine arriving, seeing all the inns were filled up, and suddenly going into labor! Imagine the only place you had to give birth was not a sterile hospital room, or even a clean hotel room, but a dark, smelly, itchy cave, surrounded by animals. Imagine all you had to dress your newborn in was strips of rags, and the only crib you had to lay Him in was a feeding trough.
Suddenly I found a few things to be thankful for. Since I wasn’t sleeping anyway, I passed the time changing my grumpiness into gratitude:
I gave thanks for the hotel room that was available for us, despite the sudden rush of people needing accommodations, the bed that was clean and warm, and for the warm body next to mine that meant I didn’t have to go through this “adventure” alone.
I thanked God for the little sleeping angels in the cot and on the couch, the food we had been able to buy so that they wouldn’t lie awake crying with hunger. I was sobered by the thought that there were those who were not warm, not full, and not loved, except by a God they didn’t even know.
I contemplated how He had always provided for me, even when I didn’t yet know or love Him. I appreciated the fact that that the wailing siren passing beneath our window had nothing to do with us, and that even if it did, I could rely on Him no matter what. Remembering past Christmases where a hospital room or a funeral home had been part of the scenario, I knew I could always rely on His love, because it was a love that caused Him to knowingly and willingly make a more drastic transition than we ever had – from the glories and pleasures of heaven to a cold, harsh planet full of selfish, ungrateful, unholy people.
Most of all, I thanked Him for the reason: that the God and Creator of the universe loved us so much that He was willing to give up His home for a time and die for us to pay the penalty for our foolishness – our evil intentions, our wicked deeds, our destructive words, our character flaws, our blunders – and all the good things we failed to do. The perfect Son of God had sacrificed Himself so that, believing in Him, we could be forgiven and spend eternity with our heavenly Father in our forever home, warm, happy, loved, and secure.
(Talk about a homecoming!)
Dear readers, I have no idea what circumstances you find yourselves in this Christmas. But may you not be sidetracked by the world’s distractions and inconveniences. Even in the stark calamities of life, He is there. He has been there. He has purposefully chosen to be with us in our imperfect world, our disappointments, our frustrations, our sufferings – He bore it all. Because He loves us that much. So over the din of the world – the complaints, the cursing, the wailing sirens, the exploding bombs, the weeping at the graves – may we still hear the angels declare:
“I bring you good news of great joy … unto you a Child is born!”
Let’s spread that news today.