Merry Christmas! As we celebrate the wonder of Christ's birth, I wanted to share with you the fiction portion of the shepherd's visit from my book, Wrestling with Wonder.
May you embrace the mystery of a Savior become a babe, born in a barn ...
Excerpt from Wrestling with Wonder:
I hold him in my arms. He nestles, and nuzzles. So normal. So real. He lets out a cry, his mouth open, searching.
I smile and guide him to eat. He is strong, this newborn son of mine. Of God’s. This Messiah.
I roll the word over in my mind as I gaze down at his pink cheeks, his stock of curly black hair. His eyes are closed, his lashes dark against his skin.
Messiah. Rescuer. Deliverer. Redeemer. King … Baby.
I sigh and place him back in the manger. He wiggles. Hay crinkles. I press it down to make it softer around him.
A Messiah in a Manger. What does it mean?
I lean over and kiss his brow. “Will the wild ox consent to serve you? Will it stay by your manger at night?” I whisper the words from the holy scroll of Job, words spoken by God himself.
Does God see his son in a manger? Did he intend to provide no better bed? Will there be no visit from angels bearing gifts? Will there be no witnesses to the miracle of his birth?
Lord, where are the angels?
I hear a noise behind me. A rustling of feet. A whisper of voices.
“We found him.”
“Just as they said.”
I turn and see the silhouettes of men against the night sky. Men in ragged robes with tall staffs in their hands.
These are no angels. They are shepherds.
Simple shepherds from the fields. Are these the witnesses God would send?
Joseph stands, positions himself between the shepherds and the babe. He touches my shoulder.
One man steps closer. “May we enter? May we see the baby?”
Joseph nods. I scoot closer to the manger.
The shepherds shuffle in. The smells of grass and dirt, sweat and sheep swirl in with them. I look into dirty faces, gaze at calloused hands gripping rough wood. I see the stains on their robes, the dirt caked in their sandals.
They are anything but angels.
And they bear no gifts.
Or do they?
Three lean over the feeding trough and laugh. They laugh!
“It’s just as the angel told us,” says the tallest.
“A baby in a manger.”
“A Messiah in a feeding trough.” The oldest sighs, his face alight with the incongruity of a messiah-babe lying in a feeding trough for oxen.
I touch his sleeve. “An angel you say? An angel visited you?”
“We were out in the fields, watching our flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared right before us. The glory of the Lord shone all around us. It was amazing.”
“You mean it was terrifying.” The tall shepherd moves closer and continues the story. “But he told us to not be afraid because he was bringing us good news. Us, shepherds living in the fields!”
The third shepherd shifts, never taking his eyes from my son. “He said the Messiah had been born, and the sign to us was to be the craziest thing I’ve ever heard – a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feeding trough. He said we’d find the Messiah in a manger.” He glances up. “And we did.”
“Other angels came, a whole host of them. They sang of glory and peace. They sang of wonder.”
“And when they left us, we came here, searching for a baby in the last place we’d have thought to find him.”
“So here we are.”
“And here he is.” The last shepherd’s voice drops low with awe.
Here he is …
I sit back on my heels and wrestle with my own incongruities.
Welcomed by shepherds and not kings, not angels …
Angels singing not to him but to the low ones of our society in the open fields at night …
Lying not in a crib but a manger…
And that, somehow, is a sign.
What kind of Messiah is this? What kind of Rescuer? What kind of King?
I stare at the old wooden feeding trough and grabble with the truth of God sending shepherds to a manger.
We put him there because we had no other place. God put him there because he intended to. Because it is a sign.
Not an accident. Not an oversight. But a sign.
A sign I cannot yet understand.
A Messiah meant to lie in a manger. Could it be? The words of the prophet Isaiah tiptoe through my mind: “The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
I don’t know. I do not understand. But I do know there’s meaning in the manger. God has done this. He has placed his son in a feeding trough on purpose.
Will I ever comprehend it?
The shepherds rise, murmuring about all the people they must tell of this miracle. I watch them go, their robes swaying at their feet, their staffs tapping the ground with eager anticipation. And I know they’ll speak of angels and babies. Of feeding troughs and swaddling rags.
They'll speak of God.
But what kind of God is this? What kind of Messiah?
Their voices fade. I pick up my son again. I look into his slumbering face. There's so much I don't understand. So much that doesn't make sense at all. Will I ever make sense of a King born in barn? Of a Messiah welcomed by shepherds? Of a Son of God with a manger for his bed?
I press my lips together and look out into the night. What do I do with these strange truths? How do I comprehend them?
I close my eyes and hold him close. I know what I will do. I will wrap these thoughts, these wonderings, carefully in the rags of my pondering and tuck them safely in the manger in my heart. There, I will treasure them.
Because the shepherds brought a gift after all. They brought the gift of Mystery.