“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).
It’s a cold and clear night. So clear, in fact, that everyone who sees the light shining in the distance swears they hear the sound of church bells. Curious, they follow the sound, which almost seems to call them by name.
There’s an abandoned church off the main road. A white clapboard structure with stained glass windows that fill up both sides of the church. Miraculously, they’re still intact. There’s a light shining from within. Something that hasn’t been seen for decades. Back when families crowded inside and filled up every pew. When church was their second home and God was their first source of strength.
One by one a traveler pulls off the main road onto the gravel.
A man opens the front door. Stepping inside, he sees the light emanating from the front of the sanctuary. Not until he’s almost there does he see the manger. A small, wooden structure made a long ago with loving care. Filled with fresh straw, the baby Jesus still rests on top.
Immediately, he falls to his knees. Missing his wife of many years, he prays from his heart the simple words that have been sitting there unspoken. “Jesus, fill up these empty spaces in me. I feel so alone. Help me. I want to live again, but I don’t know how.”
A young couple makes their way up to the manger. Holding hands they kneel. Through tears they say, “Lord, we lost our precious one before she was even born. She never opened her eyes here on earth, but we know that when she did open them, she saw you. Please take good care of her. Hug her for us and tell her that we love her.”
Another traveler enters. It’s been a long time since he’s stepped inside a church. He notices the old, wooden pews as he slowly walks up the aisle. He grew up in a church like this. Sadly, he remembers thinking that he’d outgrown it. That was long ago when his back was straight and he held his head high, chasing the world by its tail on his own terms. But life took a nasty turn. A failed marriage. A dead end job. Friends moved away. And now this. His only child, his beloved son, gone too soon. He sees the manger. He falls to his knees.
“Oh, Jesus. Forgive me for my arrogance and my pride. Forgive me for thinking it was all about me. My son is gone. I pray he’s with you. I don’t know. I was too busy to ask him and then it was too late. Somewhere in the middle of the life I lived just for me, he decided that he couldn’t live in this world any more. Why? Does he know that I love him?
“How your Father sent you to earth to die, I’ll never understand. But I’m thankful. I guess he loves us more than we can imagine or understand. Jesus, give me that kind of love for others. Show me how you want me to live. I surrender my life to you. If you don’t mind a broken down guy, I’m your man.”
No one notices, but with each prayer the light shining above the manger gets a little brighter.
Others come. A woman who wears depression like a blanket she can never remove. Several people with chronic pain. Some have guilt and regret. Many are profoundly lonely. They come. They kneel. They pray. The broken. The forgotten. Ones carrying secret pain like it’s a fragile, newborn baby. People just like you and me.
Each one of these travelers has a different journey this Christmas. They journey to the manger and they leave with the cross. Forgiven. Comforted. Filled with the Lord’s peace that means nothing to those who don’t know Him, but to those who are broken and struggling, it means everything.
This Christmas, may we all think of travel. Not to loved ones' homes, although that could happen. But a trip to that special night so long ago when our Lord came down to earth to be with us. To experience life as a human, even though he was still God. To ultimately sacrifice his life so that we might have eternal life. He came back from death to life to eternal life just for us.
Remember what He said? He “came to set the captives free” (Luke 4:18b). Not only to save us from our sins, but to bless us, too. To give us abundant life (John 10:10).
Come to the manger this Christmas and leave with the gift of the cross. It’s the gift that keeps on giving for eternity. Merry Christmas.