Mary’s birthplan didn’t work. How do I know? Well, what new mom dreams of having her baby in an animal barn, on the floor, and laying him to rest in a feeding trough with flies buzzing overhead? The fact that she didn’t get a terrible infection from the unsanitary conditions was proof alone that God is in the miracle business.
“and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Luke 2:7
Mary’s birthplan didn’t work.
But God’s birthplan did. God didn’t want soft music playing. He didn’t want clean towels to catch the baby or hot water or even a midwife. His birthplan called for a lonely, cold, dirty birth experience, shared by none other than Mary and her fiancee. Jesus was born in the same place that chickens hatched and ewes lambed and heifers calved. He had, as it were, an un-glorified animal birth.
I take comfort in this. If the birth of the Son of God was ramshackle and impoverished, then it feels like our celebration of it should be no better. If we feel ramshackle and impoverished in our hearts this season, then we might be right where we should be: un-glorified and completely in God’s plan.
Mary gave birth in terrible conditions. So why do we yearn for perfection during the Christmas season? It’s like we feel compelled to over-compensate for God’s lack of panache in his own birth story. We think, “Let’s dress up the events in a dark dirty barn with twinkle lights and scented candles. Let’s remember baby Jesus wrapped in rags and lying in a manger by giving gifts of footie jammies and holiday cookies.”
I love my kids in footie jammies. But Mary didn’t put Jesus in footie jammies.
I’m not writing to overthrow our Christmas traditions. I like them.
I’m writing to those of us who feel like God is not listening to our plans at all. I’m writing to those of us who have had to rely on the kindness of strangers to give gifts to our kids (like, oh, say, Mary did with the three Wise Men?). I’m writing to those of us who are planning to quietly leave our spouses, because of how they have hurt us (like, maybe, Joseph was planning?) I’m writing to those of us who feel like the only person in the whole world who is walking the path we are facing. God brought his baby boy into the world through the appearance of homelessness, poverty, and the scandal of an unwed mother. Mary could have had every reason to feel sorry for herself. But instead, she focused on what God was doing. She treasured up all of God’s wonders in her heart, so that she became as rich as a queen on the inside.
We have the choice to focus on the disappointments of others not coming through for us, or to focus on what God is doing. We can treasure up the wonders of Jesus coming to save our souls. We can become as rich as royalty on the inside as we see every good thing we have as a gift from a good God. We can let all the hurts go: all the fights, the broken ornaments, the broken promises.
The Christmas story is a story of people leaving their normal plans, and following God instead. Jesus came into the world to live perfectly and be murdered at the hands of humans. He died to take the punishment of every wrong we have ever done, so that we can know our perfect Creator again. He saved us from a fate worse than death, if we accept his pardon. His offer is still good, to this day, if we accept it.
None of that was according to anyone’s plans. But God’s plans are not our plans. His perfect plans can look terribly ramshackled and impoverished on the outside, but full to the brim with his power and his purpose on the inside. Take heart, dear one. God is doing something wonderful in the mess.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, yet our inner self is being renewed day by day. For our light and temporary affliction is producing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs our troubles. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18