Of Manger and Drywall, and of Cement

To our eyes it was a temple, and when any little improvement was accomplished we stood about admiringly. We voiced plans for the remaining cement block walls to be covered with drywall and paint, and of a finer rear entry with classy double doors, so that when our growth had caused us to utilize the other parking lot, a tiny foyer will be part of that entrance.

We dreamed, smiled often, made phone calls to brag on our new place, as at the same time we thanked God and gave Him credit for the progress. Tell the truth, we’ve lived the past few weeks in a jeweled, rosy haze.

Then one late afternoon, I stood alone in the budding sanctuary, and for a minute–just a minute, mind you–saw our new church project as it actually is–humble, and quite unremarkable, paltry and negligible. How could we have thought it worthy of a King?

For stripped of dream and imagination, the sight was dismal, the gleaming illusion barely visible. The construction grade plywood platform, the two small steps, whose height had been carefully calculated, the lean line of keyboard stand, and the spare pulpit, dsc_0136cast its own vision–one definitely lacking in grandeur. The sight spoke instead of reality; of struggle, and of less than infinite resources.

I was struck by the vision–a vision so at odds with those of recent hours and days–that I went for my camera so that I could fairly capture the moment.

During the intervening days, I have thought often of that fading afternoon, and have stared at the picture. Although I knew the lesson at first sight, during the passing time since the event, I have examined thoroughly its elements, and have come to understand.

It is the Christmas Story again. It is a manger filled with hay. It is a stable.

Incredibly, she is led to the outbuilding, a young girl racked with pains that cannot be ignored: “Yes!” a stable will do. So, soft-eyed cattle stand and continue their chew, and sheep nuzzle and gaze unknowingly at the most momentous birth in history–that of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

“Where will we place Him, Joseph?” the young mother asked.

“Here, Mary. Here in the cattle manger. I’ve fashioned Him a snug place.”

They wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in the manger.

The stable was now a temple; directly overhead a pointing star suspended itself in the black night spangling the barn roof with light. In the nearby hills, angels shouted from the sky. Shepherds cowered, and listened, and sped to where lay the Christ-Child.

We don’t know how long the young family remained in the stable, but when they bundled up baby Jesus and left, I’m quite sure the hay was still hay, the

manger was still recognizable as a feeding trough, and the floor was still dirt. Hinges creaked, and wind and sun beat down on the structure…as before.

For of little consequence is the building. It was not the stable that struck still the overhead star, nor was it the manger that drew the shepherds; neither did the humble town of Bethlehem cause angels to swarm its night skies. No, it was That Baby. Baby Jesus. The Messiah. God, made flesh.

So, seen in context, our new building and our pitiful improvements reek as inconsequential: perhaps they may be seen as stable and as manger. But though it is little, is that not enough? For we have fashioned Him a house, and though His favored abode is the heart of man, it is here–in our humble place in Lake Havasu–that we hope to attract those who don’t know about that yet. We who do know will congregate, think on Him, dream our dreams, and fashion our visions. During these last days before Christmas we will again marvel at that night, when, incomprehensibly, God became a man.

11 thoughts on “Of Manger and Drywall, and of Cement

  1. Sis. Buxton,
    I am so sorry. I never really thought of that verse as a negative. I believe that you are well on your way to the greatness of which you spoke. It just seems such a special time to be involved at the very beginning of something wonderful!! I admire you greatly and love to read about what is happening in this new work you are involved in.

    Sister Holmes, don’t be sorry…I’m half kidding, and of course it is not a negative scripture, and I wouldn’t dare seriously complain about any scripture and yes, it is exciting to be involved in the beginning of a church.

    Onward to a glorious Christmas!

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  2. Esther

    Sis. Buxton, keep in mind our past: brush harbors, dirt floors, no back benchs. And, look where we are today. Back then, your building would seem like a castle.
    You are at the beginning, look forward to the ending. Think on what all happened between the cradle and the cross. God will bring great things to your humble building. I believe He loves simple things as well as grand things. Love you.

    Esther, of course I appreciate the past, and those pioneers who prepared the way for us to have what we have today. I did not intend to come across as complaining; rather I hoped to convey that our finest efforts have little meaning without Jesus being there.

    Have a merry, merry Christmas.

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  3. Hello, Katrina.

    I feel like confessing something: I like some scriptures more than I do others. 🙂 Just being honest, I am. I’m not terribly fond of turning the other cheek, or of giving my cloak to a demanding person, or of having great regard for one who is spiteful to me. I know those principles are true, and I respect them and try to obey them. But in all honesty, they are not favorites. I much prefer visions of Heaven, of the love of God to me, of Bethlehem’s story, and of great escapades of God’s valiant warriors.

    Another one or two I’m not fond of is …the thought of just one or two persons congregating, or that one you brought up about the day of small things…just not my favorites. But I accept them, know they are God’s Word, and love the principles involved.

    But I prefer big, glorious, successful, bulging at the seams, needing to build because of not enough room…stuff like that.

    Okay, you’ve yanked this terrible confession from me. Love you anyway, and wish you a very merry, blessed Christmas.

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  4. Nita

    What an inspiring post. It reminded me of our church we were in before building our new building. Sometimes a building can be like our lives. When we have all the “extras” and there are no “needs” Christ is not as visible to us. I will always have such fond memories of that old building because His presence was the only focus. I am excited that we have a large place that more can worship, but the real beauty of a church building is the glow of God. I know God was smiling down on you the day you took the pictures and thinking if you only knew what He has in store for you. MERRY CHRISTMAS! I pray the new year brings many lives to Christ.

    Merry Christmas, Nita, to you and all your family.

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  5. I especially like the last line of this post.

    During these last days before Christmas we will again marvel at that night, when, incomprehensibly, God became a man.

    It is still such a marvel and wonder to me that God would take on the form of man. I’m glad too that Jesus is comfortable in humble places, because our new building too, when compared to a lot of other places is certainly no palace. What a privilege it is though, that when we meet there and begin to praise Him with all of our hearts, He is in our midst!

    May you and your family have a wonder filled Christmas. Love you!

    Carol, and a merry Christmas to you and your family also. How wonderful it is to celebrate His miraculous birth.

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  6. Yes, Mark, I agree that our coming together to worship and to exchange and to “bless” ourselves is two-pronged. Indeed it meets our own needs, but should also serve as a magnet for the unchurched.

    In that regard–and in others, of course–the appearance and “feel” of the church building itself should be a point of concern for us. Isn’t it incumbent on us to cultivate a sense of warmth and security that is palpable as the visitor walks through the front door. Are they not searching for such a place?

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  7. The photo of the “raw” building returns many memories of days and places long gone by. Yet, the goal or the desire is still the same. To have a place where people can come and make a life changing choice then a place for them to come and worship with those of, “like precious faith.”

    Great Job!!
    Mervi

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  8. “we hope to attract those who don’t know about that yet. We who do know will congregate, think on Him, dream our dreams, and fashion our visions. ”

    The above quote is what captured my thoughts, but it fits with something that I have been contemplating…the church building is a place where we who do know and have a relationship with Him come to worship…but it also plays a vital part in reaching and connecting the unchurched.

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