Two weeks ago, I found myself on the floor face up with my head under our newly-decked Christmas Tree. I was peering up at all the lights and ornaments giggling because the large, gaudy Santa ornament that a friend had gifted me was dangling over my head with its rear blocking my view. As a child, I found solace this time of the year lying under our Christmas tree, gazing at the lights, and pondering what it was like on that special night as I daydreamed with the aid of our manger scene.
Like most kids, Christmas for me growing up had the expectation of Christmas morning with presents wrapped under the tree, but there was always an underlying looming dread that something bad would happen. Like a bad aftertaste of cough syrup, it tainted my taste of everything, even Christmas. But I’m not a child anymore, and this time, lying under the tree was not a means of escaping reality. I just simply was praying and felt the Lord say, “Lie under the tree like when you were a little girl.” So the Lord and I giggled together as I stared at the lights and Santa’s behind.
I’ve been asking my heavenly Father for a different Christmas season this year. I’ve found myself yearning for something more, especially as those fleeting childhood fears try to creep back into the crevices of my mind. Last weekend, my husband and I were attending an incredible conference at our church where the presence of God was so heavy that it felt like a blanket was over the entire room. We had decided ahead of time that we needed to allow our children to take part in a live nativity where they would play shepherds at a local horse stable and farm where our girls do 4H Club. We skipped out of the last session of the conference and bundled up in our coats to go stand out in the cold. I ended up helping by ushering large groups of people into a tiny waiting room inside the main barn while my husband directed traffic and my girls played shepherds in the horse arena.
Now, I don’t care for large groups of people, especially in small waiting rooms, or any room for that matter. But here I stood as a sentry at the gate with small children whining and tugging at their mommies’ coats, some dads tightly squeezing the hands of their little ones with hot chocolate steaming in their other hand, countless babies bundled in baby carriers strapped to mommies’ chests. Little ones, old ones, cranky, patient, all nationalities, some toothless in tattered clothes, some dressed to the hilt, all were waiting to see a baby in a manger. As each group began to get restless, a friend with golden reindeer antlers on her head began spurring on random Christmas carols.
All these people, no matter their background, religious or otherwise, joined together in singing “Silent Night,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Holy Night,” etc. As their voices unified, a calming presence filled the room. Even my fidgeting ceased. While one group was waiting their turn, I began talking with the Lord, not really complaining but more so wishing, I said in my heart, “I really wished that we had gotten to finish the conference.” In a sweet voice, I heard, “Daughter, I love being in a church building, but My favorite place is a stable.” Stunned, I replied, “Yes. I guess it is, isn’t it?”
As the people were led on through a door on the opposite side of the room which led to the arena, I snickered. We walked through a supply closet with shelves of old cleaning supplies and a plastic, paint-chipped manger scene kicked off to a corner. No Mickey Mouse Land here. Guests ran up to the edge of the ring where our children and others held the sheep and goats. “The Horse Lady,” as she is called, in her own down to earth, laid back way, began to simply tell the story of the night when heaven came to Earth, when God became man and entered His earth suit to show us the way to heaven.
In that dust-filled, manure-smelling stable, men, women, boys, and girls stood and listened to the greatest story ever told. It may be the only time they have stopped to listen, really listen. God became man and dwelt among us. He prefers stables to mansions. He comes to our stinky, dark, messy places and brings hope, light, and salvation. He calls to the lowest and proclaims, “Emmanuel, God with us!”
Tonight, we were invited to a downtown center which reaches out to the homeless in our city. Our family had been invited by a friend acting in a comedy improv group performing that evening. It was a most delightful evening of laughs and precious moments of homeless people volunteering to act out the Christmas story: Mary, played by the recovering addict; Joseph, played by a homeless man; the angel standing on a stool, played by a very pregnant mother of three boys, etc. It was a priceless picture. As we were driving home, my husband leaned over and said the Holy Spirit had clearly spoken in his ear, “If you want to find Me, come down here.”
My heavenly Father has been answering my prayer this year by giving us a different kind of Christmas, a season of seeing Him in uncommon places and remembering the real reason why He came. He came to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free… (Isaiah 61:1). He prefers stables, delights in homeless addicts, and comes to heal our broken, wayward hearts. I pray, as you end this year, that you, too, will find Him in the unexpected places, in the secret place in your heart!
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on wholeheartedwomen.org
Featured Image by Greyson Joralemon