Advent Devotion: Unexpected Grace at the Sight of a Baby

Post a Comment » Written on December 20th, 2003     
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CHICAGO, IL (December 20, 2003)  – Covenant Communications has been posting Advent devotionals throughout the past two weeks from various sources. This devotional comes from Craig Pinley, Department of Communication staff writer.

I’ve heard the Christmas story hundreds of times, but never understood the significance of the baby Jesus until a few years ago after I discovered a traditional Christmas re-enactment celebrated primarily in Hispanic churches.

Las Posadas is the centuries-old Spanish tradition of re-enacting Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter on the night of the birth of Jesus. Usually a child dressed as an angel heads the procession, followed by two more children carrying figures of Mary and Joseph on a small litter adorned with twigs of pine. A procession of people is behind them. When the procession reaches the house chosen for that evening, it divides into two groups, one representing the holy pilgrims, the  other the innkeepers.

The pilgrims line up behind the angel and the children bearing the figures of the Holy Family, and they file through the house until they arrive at a closed door, behind which the innkeepers have stationed themselves. The pilgrims knock on the door and call out in song, asking for shelter. A chorus of voices on the other side asks: “Who knocks at my door so late in the night?” The pilgrims respond, “In the name of heaven I beg you for lodging – my beloved wife can no longer travel, and she is weary.” But the response is a stony, hard-hearted refusal. “This is no inn. Go away!” After repeated requests for shelter, the pilgrims explain who they are, and that Mary will soon give birth to the Son of God. The innkeepers relent and welcome the exhausted travelers: “Enter, holy pilgrims.”

The first time I learned about Las Posadas was from my youth group when I was a youth pastor at Berkeley Covenant Church in California. We coordinated a Las Posadas progressive dinner and stopped at the homes of various parishioners for different courses of the meal. The food was great and our high-school students had a great time, but to be honest, we didn’t do Las Posadas correctly – everyone invited us in and fed us right away.

It didn’t happen that way in Bethlehem. The Bible (Luke 2:6-7) tells us that while Mary and Joseph were in the city to register for a census of the entire Roman world, “the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

The matter-of-fact telling of the Christmas story is so different from what I could’ve ever imagined in reading Old Testament prophets’ words about the one who was coming to save us. We hear that an heir to David’s throne is coming (Isaiah 9:7) and that eventually a great kingdom is coming; one God will send to crush all of the other kingdoms (Daniel 2:44); one that will make those who had been driven away into a strong nation (Micah 4:6). And then Luke 1:32-33 foretells that the baby born to Mary would be given “the throne of his father David” and “…his kingdom would never end.” And then comes a baby whose parents can’t find a room to host his birth, a baby who (we’re told in Matthew 2:13) is being searched by a king who wants to kill him.

I’ve read more than 200 newsletters this month and I think Covenant pastor Robert McNaughton may have captured my feelings best about the ironic way Jesus came to us. He wrote, “Advent reminds us to prepare, to look forward with anticipation, to reflect on the coming of the King. Then, of all things, the King comes with the noise, public relations effort and force of a single snowflake…God comes to us quietly, as a still, small voice, as a defenseless baby, on the back of a humble donkey, in the face of a stranger in need…”

God came to me quietly in December 1998, a few months after I had signed divorce papers, packed my car with my belongings, and drove from southern to northern California to start a new job. I was house sitting at a friend’s place and unable to visit family for Christmas, and I felt vulnerable and helpless to stop those voices in my head telling me how alone I was. Until I saw a newborn baby being brought to the front of the church with her father while the father’s extended  family took communion together.

For the first time, I asked myself, “What must God have felt as he prepared to send Jesus to earth, knowing full well what would lie in store for him? Since then Christmas has taken on a whole new meaning and so has communion, for that matter.

May your spiritual search for shelter and the reminders of a helpless infant sent to save us bring you closer to God this year.

To read devotionals posted earlier, search for the following title:

  • Christmas the Theme of “Lights”
  • ‘Imperfect Perfection’
  • Why Only ‘Prince of Peace?’
  • First Step Toward Peace on Earth
  • The Return of the King
  • He Will Stand By You
  • Candles Remind Us of Christ’s Light
  • Keeping Our Hearts Focused on God
  • The Pre-Christmas Present
  • Waiting God’s Way
  • Prepare to Meet Your God
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