Friday, December 21, 2012

The Greatest Gift

"And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, 
and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
Luke 2:7

There's just something about Christmas.... 
and the days leading up to it....

that has a softening effect...
on even the hardest of hearts.
It is hard to remember that holy night...
God's first night on human form...
without feeling a sense of tenderness...
and overwhelming love.

Thirteen years ago, I was in labor....
on Christmas Day.
I ended up at the hospital on Christmas Eve,
only to be sent home later.
Late Christmas evening,
the pains became increasingly closer together,
so we headed back to the hospital.

This time, I was admitted.

My labor lasted all night....
attended by every creature comfort, including...
the use of a comfortable hospital bed,
being surrounded by the ones I love most,
a competent medical staff,
all of the modern conveniences,
and receiving care...and prayer from kind, caring hands and hearts.

The next morning at 10:32 am,
the sweetest Christmas gift I have ever been given,
ended up in my arms...
a wiggling,
precious little bundle...
screaming at the top of his lungs!

I had never before experienced love on that level.
A living, breathing, perfectly-healthy life...
sent straight from Heaven to earth...
right to Kevin and me...
to raise, love, and cherish.

The twelve and a half years we spent waiting for him
was well worth every minute...
at that moment....
and every moment since.

As I neared the time of my delivery that Christmas,
my thoughts were often upon Mary...
and Joseph...
and the vastly different circumstances of their baby's birth.

As Kevin drove me to the hospital
in our comfortable, heated car,
I thought of how Joseph must have felt...
traveling on foot, from Nazareth to Bethlehem...
being forced away from family and friends,
right at the time Mary...and he...needed them most,
by a decree from Ceasar Augustus that all of the world should be taxed.
"Could the timing of the taxation be any worse?"
he must have least once.

Did he realize...
did he have the slightest inclination...
that the timing could not have been more perfect....
that the events were lining up in perfect succession 
to fulfill a centuries-long prophecy?

I can picture Joseph's gentleness in leading the beast of burden
that carried such precious cargo.
I can imagine how miserable Mary felt, 
as she endured the constant jarring of the bumpy ride.
Being great with child is not the most comfortable condition
under the best possible circumstances.
To be in that state and be forced to travel such a distance 
riding upon the back of an animal
provides little hope of comfort.

The circumstances surrounding Mary's trip to the place she would give birth
was worlds apart from my trip to the hospital
that Christmas night.

We don't know exactly how long it took them to make the journey.
The estimation of distance between the two cities in those days
was somewhere between 60 and 80 miles.

Did they take the straight path and have to pass through Samaria, 
enduring the generations-long stigma that existed between Jews and Samaritans?

Or did they take the roundabout route crossing over the Jordan River, 
avoiding Samaria and the possibility of unwanted conflict?
Did they travel alone?
Or did they join a caravan, which was common in those days?

There was danger of being robbed by bandits,
which made riding with a caravan a safer, wiser choice.
A caravan would not have been hard to find,
since the census was a demand that included all people in every region.
Depending upon Mary's ability to tolerate the journey,
in all probability,
it could easily have taken them at least a week to make the trip.
Some say it took five days.

However long it took,
whatever route they chose,
whether alone or with others,
the trip had to have been filled...
 with misery for Mary...
and apprehension for Joseph.

After all,
they were human...
just like us.

God's plan was unfolding before them....
only one step at a time.

They had no way of seeing the big picture....
the vastness of the miracle...
of which they were such an integral part.

I can only imagine the relief in Mary's heart
when she spotted the inn up ahead.
They had traveled far...
and long.
How she would love to find a place of comfort
to spend the night!
To rest her weary body,
so sore from the journey.
To relax her mind,
so tired and perplexed.
To sleep in a comfortable bed,
and prepare herself for what was ahead of her.

She watched as the kind, loving man
to whom she had given her heart,
to whose life she had permanently joined hers,
stood outside the inn door,
someone would soon answer and allow them to go inside.

How she loved him!
How she must have appreciated this dear, humble man...
who loved her so deeply in return.
What other man would have ever believed...
her near-unbelievable story?
Who else could have ever been so kind...
so empathetic...
to her situation?
What man would have risen to her defense so selflessly,
so determined to protect her honor?
How thankful she was for the choice God had made for her!
His nearness stilled her heart...
calmed her fears...
made her feel safe.

Her eyes were still upon him,
as he turned, dejectedly,
and walked back to tell her that there was simply no room.

Gone was her hope of rest...and comfort!
She knew her time was near.
Her body ached.

They were so alone!

Was this God's plan?
Had she misunderstood....
somewhere down the line?

Surely she never pictured it like this!

What would they do?

At last, they found a place....near the animals.
A lowly place.
On the sidelines.
With no fanfare.
Just the two of them.
No medical staff.
No concerned parents.
No doting grandparents.
No comfortable bed.
No waiting crib.

Just them.

Soon, they heard the first cry!
Of God in the flesh!
They were the first to hear!
His human voice!
His cry!
Their baby!
At last, the waiting was over!

Love filled her heart...
and the heart of Joseph.
He loved this baby boy...
as if He were his own....
ever conscious of the fact...
that He was not.

On that first holy night of Jesus' earthly life,
Mary and Joseph received the sweetest Gift...
they were ever given.

The Giver of life...
became the ultimate Gift.

The One Who is love...
became love personified.

I Corinthians 13:13 (NIV) says,
"And now these three remain:
faith, hope, and love.
But the greatest of these is love."

Love is the greatest gift.
Mary saw it.
In the eyes of her Son,
on that holy night...
surrounded by animals,
far from home,
with only the man she loved...
and the tiny baby to whom she had just given birth.

His love warmed her heart for the next 33 1/2 years....
each time she looked at Him.
It sustained her as He looked down upon her 
from the cruel, rugged cross on which He hung.
When the pain of His suffering became nearly more than she could bear to watch,
it gave her courage to remain....
there at His feet....
knowing this was the only way...
for the whole world to ever experience...
that same gift of love.

It is what motivated Him to leave Heaven
and come to this sin-darkened world.
It is what kept Him on track when the devil
tempted Him severely...
to give up...
to forsake the cause....
to take the easy way out.

It is love beyond degree.
It cannot be measured.
It cannot be contained.
It cannot be exhausted.

No matter what you do.

No matter how hard you try to reject it.

It is your choice after all...
whether to accept or reject...
His love...
the most precious of all gifts.

It will remain near you...
like an unopened gift...
on Christmas morning.

In the darkest moments of your life,
when you feel all is lost,
and your heart breaks...
it is there to bind up your brokenness.

It transcends time.
It trumps all other forces.
It will never fail.

But, like an unopened Christmas gift,
you won't really know how great it is...
until you receive it....
until you open it.

Mary saw it...
in His eyes...
as she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes...
and placed Him in a manger....
He, the epitome of love itself.

You'll see it, too...
as you open your heart and accept His love....
the greatest of all gifts....
this Christmas.


  1. WOW you have made that journey more real today here at "Tell Me a Story." We are so spoiled as we have our steril hospitals and comfortable beds - - and to think Mary was riding a donkey to arrive at Bethlehem. At least she didn't have to walk all that way. :-) How great a LOVE and what a journey ahead for her and her babe!

    1. Thank you so much, Hazel. It was so good to hear from you today! Have a very Merry and Blessed Christmas!

  2. You have a wonderful gift of making your words come to life. Thank you for sharing this at Tales of a Pee Dee Mama.

    1. Thank you so much, Tamara. I trust the Lord blessed you and your sweet family with a wonderful Christmas, and may the year ahead hold much health and happiness. Thank you for the encouragement you are to me. Love, Cheryl

  3. This is so good Cheryl! Love reading about the birth of your son and the story told about Mary and Joseph!

    1. God is so good! By His almighty power, you, too, will tell about the birth of your son one day! I just know it...because I know what God can do! Keep believing in His amazing ability to perform the impossible! I hope with all my heart 2014 will be the year for you to become a Mommy! May God make it so. Love and hugs to you, Cheryl