A Way in a Manger

the manger

Hi TD,

Let’s be honest. In the midst of this busy and commercialized season, we can easily lose sight of the true meaning and weight of Christmas. Perhaps we know the Christmas story so well that it has grown somewhat stale to us, or we think that the miraculous birth of Jesus has very little to do with our present life and troubles. After all, the event happened thousands of years ago in a land far, far away.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I hope that reading this blog post by Vaneetha Rendall Risner can help us come to the Christmas story in Scripture with fresh eyes and enlarge our hearts to adore the Child born King who meets us in our trials and troubles today.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to DesiringGod.org, who is well acquainted with suffering, having experienced 21 surgeries by age 13, multiple miscarriages, the death of a child, unwanted divorce, just to name a few. The pain and disappointment she writes about in this particular post is about her diagnosis with post-polio syndrome, which involves increasing pain, weakness, and limitations in her body.

– Kathy

A WAY IN A MANGER

I chipped a friend’s china plate as I struggled to put it on the counter. My arms are failing and I can’t quite gauge what I can and cannot do. I wanted to help clean up, to make things easier, but instead I made things worse.

I spiraled downward after that, regretting going to her house in the first place. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I felt He was going to use me. But I expected to serve out of my strengths. Not my weaknesses.  It’s hard to serve when you feel inadequate.

In the midst of my disappointments, I started reading the Christmas story, trying to imagine how Mary felt.

For Mary, carrying the Son of God was costly. No one would have believed she was a virgin. Her premarital pregnancy was scandalous, bringing disgrace to everyone affected. Yet God had called her to this. He had entrusted her with carrying His precious Son who would reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Mary had been given an incredible honor. So she might have expected something notable to happen before Jesus’s birth. Earthly kings had fanfare associated with them. How much more the Son of God?

So Mary may have felt disheartened as she trudged, in the last stages of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, about eighty miles away.  With no one to help her but Joseph, her betrothed.  The Bible does not mention her even having the donkey we like to imagine her riding.

Where was Joseph’s family? They must have gone to Bethlehem for the census too, but they don’t appear to have accompanied the young couple. Were Mary and Joseph not welcome with the rest of his family? All we are told was that the couple went together with nowhere to sleep but a stable.

And as she was delivering Jesus, did Mary wonder why God had not intervened? Scripture does not record that this birth was anything other than ordinary. Messy, bloody, the way all babies are born. And then wrapped in swaddling cloths according to the custom.

And where to lay him? In such a familial society, surely most women would be surrounded by relatives, eager to rock a newborn baby. But Mary and Joseph were alone and exhausted. So where in a draughty stable of beasts do you lay your newborn infant?

They chose a manger. A crude feeding trough for animals. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.

I wonder what Mary thought as she placed Jesus in a manger. Was she hesitant to put him there? Did it feel safe? Did she and Joseph have to shoo the animals away as they came to the manger in search of food? Did seeing the manger highlight for her the desperation of her situation?As she watched her sleeping baby, did she wonder if this was really what God had planned?

And then the shepherds came. They told the young couple all that had happened. Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s glory.

It must have thrilled Mary to hear the shepherds account. Though she and Joseph had been alone at his birth, heaven had been rejoicing. And the heavenly host had sent the shepherds to come and worship Jesus, confirmation that her sleeping baby was indeed the Son of God.

And how did the shepherds find them? How did they know it was the Savior?

The manger. The shepherds knew it was the Christ-child because of the manger. That was their sign from God. The angels had said, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There might have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they may have been wrapped in swaddling cloths. But no other child would have been laid in a manger.

This manger, this messy, dirty, smelly feeding trough, was the sign that God used to show the shepherds where the Savior lay.

Signs in the Bible were significant. Gideon’s sign was the wet fleece and dry ground and vice versa. Hezekiah’s sign was the shadow that went backward. And Ahaz’s sign was that a virgin would conceive. All of these were miraculous. Extraordinary. And unnatural.

And so as Mary put Jesus into the manger, it must have felt unnatural for her as well. No one would expect to find a baby in a manger. Let alone the Son of God. It was as remarkable as the other signs.

When the shepherds told Mary of their “sign,” it must have been an amazing confirmation for her. One that she treasured. The manger had been God-ordained all along.She hadn’t escaped God’s notice.

Perhaps Mary needed a sign just as much as the shepherds. To know that she was in God’s will. That God was still with her. That she was being used by God.

We all need that sign. We want confirmation. In our natural world, we think confirmation of our decisions is that things go well. They fall into place. They get tied up with a bow.

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger? 

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where He can use us most.

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it.

The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring Him the greatest glory. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first, the weak shall be strong, and the foolish shall shame the wise.

And God incarnate will be laid in a manger.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Vaneetha Rendall Risner

 

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“Thank You!” from the Orphaned

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Hey TD!

A big thank you for tangibly giving and tangibly showing hope to children who have special needs and who have been orphaned on the other side of the world!  As you can see, your gifts were received!  They will be used to further serve and care for children like these.  After spending time with them at four care centers in China, we experienced first-hand that not only are these children with special needs, but they are just plain special! Incredibly special!

I spent part of our long flight home looking up every verse I could find in the Bible relating to orphans or the fatherless.  What’s clear is that they have a very special place in God’s heart and mind.  To serve children who have been orphaned is to get close to God’s heart:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Jam. 1:27 (please notice the final clause also, a clause many of us are not taking seriously)

So, while we’ve done a good thing in sponsoring 7 children who have been orphaned (please pay your sg leader!), and we’ve done a good thing in buying supplies for them, is there opportunity for us to go from good to great?  You bet. To live excellently and greatly for the Lord is our call:

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” Col. 3:23

“Whether then you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.” 1 Cor. 10:31

As I told you during our last TD meeting, we have some potentially impactful days ahead of us at TD, as we make more of a conscious move towards God’s heart; but it won’t happen without buy-in … and sacrifice.

We’ll get into more later, but begin with thinking through this question during the week. Take it seriously (God does) and work through it:

Why does God have such a strong heart for the orphaned and widowed?  What is it about them that drives His heart so? 

– Arthur

 

Girl With Down Syndrome Posts Letter to Doctor Who Wanted Parents To Abort Her

Hey TD,

Are you anxious about the future? The fact is that we all are, to some degree.  How we live with those fears will in fact heavily influence that very future we fear.  As I read the article below, I couldn’t help but think of the paralyzing fear that parents can have when they are told that their unborn child will be born with special needs.

When Sandra was pregnant with our eldest, Nathaniel, our doctor recommended an amniocentesis to be taken.  This is a procedure where the doctor draws amniotic fluid from the mother’s amniotic sac for testing.  When we asked what they would be testing for and why she recommended it, the doctor said that they would be testing for Down Syndrome, so we could abort the baby if the results came out positive.  We said that we would be keeping the baby no matter what.  I asked if there were other health concerns for Sandra to take the amnio.  The doctor said no.  So we refused the procedure.

The article below also reminds me of when Sandra was pregnant with our fourth child.  At the time, we had three boys, so people at church would often ask whether it was a boy or a girl, and say something like, “You want a girl, right?”  I would reply that we didn’t know and that we’d be totally fine with whatever God gave us.  And then sensing where we were coming from, they would say something like, “Oh yes, yes, of course.  Well, as long as it’s healthy,” leaving us once again to try to gently disagree with them, though I knew they were well meaning.  So, my response would be, “We will take whatever God gives us, boy or girl, healthy or not.  It will be our child and we will him or her fully, regardless.”  That child turned out to be Angela, and as promised, we love her fully indeed!

Courtney Baker’s doctor recommended her to abort her daughter after her amniocentesis results came in.  And boy is she glad she didn’t!  Here is a powerful letter she and her daughter, Emmy, recently wrote to her doctor.  Please read and glean!

See you at TD this Friday! – Arthur

Girl With Down Syndrome Posts Letter to Doctor Who Wanted Parents To Abort Her

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“This is Emmy, mailing our letter to the prenatal specialist who didn’t want her to live. He repeatedly suggested we abort. He said her and our quality of life would be horrible.” Emmy’s mother Courtney Baker says, “He was so unbelievably wrong. I want to do something to advocate, but other than my letter to him, I don’t know what yet.”

Emmy was diagnosed prenatally with Down syndrome.

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Last month, Courtney wrote the doctor a letter- the very one Emmy mailed off to the specialist who suggested so many times she abort her daughter. And here is a copy of the letter.

“Dear Doctor,
A friend recently told me of when her prenatal specialist would see her child during her sonograms, he would comment, “He’s perfect.” Once her son was born with Down syndrome, she visited that same doctor. He looked at her little boy and said, “I told you. He’s perfect.”
Her story tore me apart. While I was so grateful for my friend’s experience, it filled me with such sorrow because of what I should have had. I wish you would have been that doctor.
I came to you during the most difficult time in my life. I was terrified, anxious and in complete despair. I didn’t know the truth yet about my baby, and that’s what I desperately needed from you. But instead of support and encouragement, you suggested we terminate our child. I told you her name, and you asked us again if we understood how low our quality of life would be with a child with Down syndrome. You suggested we reconsider our decision to continue the pregnancy.
From that first visit, we dreaded our appointments. The most difficult time in my life was made nearly unbearable because you never told me the truth.
My child was perfect.
I’m not angry. I’m not bitter. I’m really just sad. I’m sad the tiny beating hearts you see every day don’t fill you with a perpetual awe. I’m sad the intricate details and the miracle of those sweet little fingers and toes, lungs and eyes and ears don’t always give you pause. I’m sad you were so very wrong to say a baby with Down syndrome would decrease our quality of life. And I’m heartbroken you might have said that to a mommy even today. But I’m mostly sad you’ll never have the privilege of knowing my daughter, Emersyn.

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Because, you see, Emersyn has not only added to our quality of life, she’s touched the hearts of thousands. She’s given us a purpose and a joy that is impossible to express. She’s given us bigger smiles, more laughter and sweeter kisses than we’ve ever known. She’s opened our eyes to true beauty and pure love.
So my prayer is that no other mommy will have to go through what I did. My prayer is that you, too, will now see true beauty and pure love with every sonogram.

And my prayer is when you see that next baby with Down syndrome lovingly tucked in her mother’s womb, you will look at that mommy and see me then tell her the truth: “Your child is perfect.”

 

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Courtney told ParkerMyles.com,  “Emmy has two siblings. Rhyan is almost 15 and Evynn is 11. They are crazy about their sister!! They had been through so much at that point [when we received the diagnosis].

We tried to be honest with them while keeping strong in our faith, but they knew about our pain and struggles with the specialist. When they heard that her diagnosis was confirmed at her birth, they were afraid.

Emmy was taken from me immediately after birth because of low oxygen levels, so the girls met her when I did. It was such a surreal moment after all that time of fear and heartache. She was there and she was ours.


The girls both said that at soon as they met her they fell in love. And it was obvious. A lot of healing happened at that moment. We never looked back to the fear and sadness, it’s been onward in the smiles and joy. Rhyan is the calm, quiet, motherly refuge for Emmy. Evynn is the wild, fun, cracking up laughter for her. They are a perfect trio.”

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Kat Abianac

Kat is a writer and a passionate advocate for inclusion in the media and advertising. She has two children, one with Down syndrome. Use the ‘contact us’ tab on this site to request her media kit or to get in touch. You may republish content from http://www.parkermyles.com on your own site, provided a pingback is made to her original article and she is fully credited as author.