There is a neighborhood not too far from where I live that speaks to my heart on many levels. It’s a study of contrasts ~ a mixture of residential and commercial properties whose history allowed them to grow together. On a single street, homes range from stunning architectural design to humble one-bedroom abodes, each revealing unspoken economic means.
In the middle of this neighborhood stood a grand old house ~ dark, empty and in a declining state. I was never able to pass it without feeling a strange melancholy at it’s condition and a tenacious hope that someone would come along and restore it to it’s former glory. One day, someone did.
The realty sign in the front yard finally displayed a “sold” banner and before long it became evident that the owner was genuinely invested in saving the estate. Not only was it clear that the whole house was being restored, but outbuildings on the property were expanded and enhanced to compliment the original design.
Light and beauty graced the home once again and, before long, life emanated from the inside out. With each season the exterior was tastefully outfitted for the occasion. Gardens bloomed in the spring and summer, flag buntings dressed it in July, a pageantry of color and corn stalks appear in the fall and pine roping and a glowing tree adorned the structure at Christmas. Truly, it was grand once again and I found myself driving by with a sense of contentment. Perhaps it was more than just the brick and mortar that brought satisfaction to my heart. This was a parallel of the human condition. The old house neither created itself initially, nor restored itself ultimately. It simply reflected the touch of its owner.
It was Christmas when the grand house presented another truth. Returning from an evening engagement, I had opportunity to drive by the estate. I slowed down just a bit to take in the holiday decor, then happily continued on. But this time, I was aware of more than just the house; for less than a block down the street, none of the grandeur existed. The tiniest house remained austere, humble and lowly. I had passed that dwelling just as frequently through the years, yet never with the same sense of interest. The little structure sheltered lives equally as valuable as those in the grand old home, yet I had never looked at it with the same transforming anticipation. It caused me to think of the birthplace of my Lord and led to consideration about perceptions and things that matter ~ hearts and souls, relationships and faith, the temporal and the eternal.
I wonder how often in our human perspective, we miss true greatness because of our tendency to see only with our eyes and not our souls. It certainly happened the night Christ was born. In the Gospel of Luke, we are told that an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds ~ the humblest of men ~ and spoke these words: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger.” (2:10-12 NKJ)
To say this was an unseemly place for a king to be born would be an obvious understatement. But to announce that the King of kings had been born in such a lowly state and laid in a feeding trough is astounding. And it is powerful. The Creator of heaven and earth works His good in ways that confounds and humbles us. Our inclination is to admire the palaces and the powerful and regard them as our benefactors. But God is not bound to such limitations. He works His will in unimaginable ways for our good and His glory. Aren’t you glad He does?
There is a beauty and warmth of Christmas that is like no other and it’s spirit transcends our stations in life. Jesus didn’t come to redeem us based on our dwelling. He came with the offer to indwell us and, through His mercy, transform us from the inside out. Whether we live in mansions or mud huts, without Christ, we are as dark and empty as the grand old house before it was rescued. Oh, but when Jesus moves in, there is restoration! Light and life become the forever gifts of God to the redeemed…all because the King came willingly to a manger.