A Divine First Breath

A baby lies in a manger, snuggled in swaddling clothes and admired by his mother. He is surrounded by cattle and sheep peacefully watching the scene unfold before their eyes. Just moments earlier, this newborn screamed his way into our world, and in doing so changed our relationship to the Divine forever. In that very first breath, the pure and innocent lungs of this holy little child were shocked and even scarred as he inhaled that which the world had to offer! His perfection was instantly exposed to the imperfect. Why, O Lord, would you want to experience our humanity? Ever since the birth of creation you had breathed Divine life into this sinful world, spreading Grace into a desperate creation craving to breathe just a little of your light into our vast darkness. But on this cold night in the Bethlehem countryside, the roles reversed. In this child’s first single breath, in that miraculous moment, you my Lord inhaled that which emanated directly from humanity. You, the Divine, willingly breathed our brokenness into your righteous soul! This thought leaves me astounded!
In the birth of this child to Mary, somehow my brokenness becomes a part of your holy consciousness. Suddenly, my sinful spirit is connected intimately to your Divine heart. Or, perhaps it is the other way around. Maybe your Divinity is now connected to my sinfulness in a way that allows you to relate to all the worst in me. Either way, I am blessed in ways I cannot even begin to fathom! And thus, once again, I stand in awe and stare at a meager and pitiful manger that changed my life even before I could take my own first breath in this world. A child lying in a manger in Bethlehem took a single simple breath, and my life was inexplicably made righteous. I will never fully understand, and nor do I need to. Instead, I only observe in contemplative wonder. This, This is Christ the King! Amen!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

AN ORDINARY MAN

A man stands in the entryway to a cave, which is currently being used as a manger amidst the chaos and hustle of this census. Inside sits his wife, exhausted from both their long journey and the strains of childbirth. He marvels that she has the energy to wrap the little baby in swaddling clothes and watch over him. He wishes he could somehow have made this moment better, easier, or even special. From a distance, shepherds approach excitedly with stories of angels praising God for the birth of this child. At first, Joseph wants to defend his wife and the baby, but she tells him it is alright. Reluctantly, Joseph allows their entry. All the while, he keeps thinking to himself, “I am but a lowly carpenter. How can this be? What does God expect of me?” The night grows deeper, but inexplicably the sky is aglow…
Joseph may not have believed it at the time, but he was the perfect parent for the little baby Jesus. It wasn’t that he was strong or wise or wealthy – indeed he was none of these. Joseph, instead, was ordinary. He was living proof that God does the extraordinary – through the ordinary – all the time. Joseph would teach his boy an honorable trade. Joseph would protect his family with a fierce love and loyalty. Joseph would live his faith publicly for all to see. In the years to come, this man would be the simple human Dad to the anointed one born of heaven and earth. Joseph would actually have the amazing calling to be a human role model to the Word of God Incarnate! As such, he would play a key role in connecting the experience of the divine with the life of the sinner. But on this night, he was just an ordinary man standing alone and observing the miraculous with an overwhelmed soul.
On Christmas Eve, I will find myself standing in awe of the manger as well. I have the advantage of hindsight and knowledge, whereas Joseph’s story with Jesus had yet to be written. Then again, I sometimes forget how much of my story still remains a blank page. And thus, I find myself similarly standing in an entryway, in awe of the night at hand and in anticipation of the road that lies ahead. All I can pray is that, in the same way as Joseph, I may be so ordinary as to be an extraordinary blessing to the generations of our family yet to come. That remains to be seen. For now, I simply watch a manger, stare at the night sky, and sing O Come, O Come Immanuel!!!
-Rev Jeffrey G Mikyska (pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Elgin, IL)

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)