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, cast 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.