THE MANGER

This cave, used as a manger for the cattle and other animals, is busy tonight. Food is brought in regularly and left in the trough by men protecting their most precious livestock. As usual, it is quite cold, damp and dark in here. Between the animals and their owners, foot traffic is very much the norm. On this night, with the census starting and so many travelers en route, this cave is bustling with God’s creatures, some of whom are weary after traveling far and carrying a heavy load. There is simply nothing glorious about this dirty place filled with rancid odors…at least, not yet anyway. Soon, there will be other and much more unique visitors. A young woman will give birth to her firstborn here. A young man will watch and worry, perhaps even feeling guilty for not being able to do better for her. Shepherds from nearby fields will be coming excitedly to visit the newborn and share their almost unbelievable story. Literally, the world will be changed here…but for now, the manger is silent with the exception of an occasional sound from the cattle.
Why, O Lord, must the Light that will pierce all darkness be born in here? What is it with You, O God, that this manger built into a cave seems like the perfect place from which to reconnect with humanity for all generations? How can it be that a dirty old manger can be the birthplace of Hope, and a terrifying dark grave can somehow be the beacon of New Life? Perhaps the darkest, dirtiest, and most disturbing places in this world are exactly where Grace is most evident to our otherwise distracted eyes. Truthfully, I need not know why. All that really matters is that this abhorrent cave is soon to be the site of the most beautiful moment our world has ever known. Thus, I am drawn here, on this night, to keep watch and to wait amongst these stirring creatures, as anticipation grows. Soon. Very soon… Amen.
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

A Young Woman’s Spiritual Call

In an instant, her life had been transfigured into something she could never understand. Mary had accepted her Call in a moment of wonder and fear, as she stood before the angel who had surprised her. Now, there was no going back for this young woman. She couldn’t have processed fully the words of the angel Gabriel. Mary humbly, and perhaps excitedly, simply agreed to fulfill this Calling for her life. But as she uttered those words of affirmation, could Mary really have anticipated how quickly and deeply she would be judged by those around her? Did she know that this might be too much for Joseph? Did she comprehend the loneliness that this Call would bring with it? Was she old enough to understand the heartache that comes with sacrifice? Mary, did you know any of this as you stood face to face with God’s messenger and answered without time to think?

Some 2,000 years later, it is easy for us to glorify Mary’s journey into motherhood. We celebrate her exchange with Gabriel and we re-enact her trip to Bethlehem with that ‘holy’ night in a stable. We are told that Mary pondered and cherished all these things. Of course she did. But this very young woman, just a teenager, also must have been terrified and lonely and distraught as her new life unfolded more or less beyond her control. It is Mary’s faith that I wish to emulate the most, although I may never truly comprehend such faith. Then again, she had little choice by now but to trust in God.  I, too, have sat in the darkness of a night feeling scared or lonely or distraught. I, too, have cried out from my heart to God with an unjustified hope – because it was all I had to cling to in that moment. I, too, have watched in wonder as I pondered and cherished new life unfold before my very eyes – sometimes my new life and other times the birth of new life in someone else. Perhaps, what I love the most about Mary, is that she lived in a deep despair as she gave birth to the Lord. Mary’s life was real, and not some glorious celebration. I can relate, because Mary – and so much more importantly her child – can relate to me. For the Incarnation of the Lord happened within the reality of our every day lives – and not removed from earthly struggle. Thus, tonight, yet again, I will sit staring at a stable, and my heart will wonder even as my mind wanders…Amen.

-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)