Was it a census that sent Mary and Joseph on their long journey to Bethlehem? Or was it God?
You know the answer. “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21). This was God’s plan from the very beginning, now unfolding on the road south from Nazareth.
Mary was “great with child” (Luke 2:5) as they traveled. We can only imagine how uncomfortable, unsettled, uneasy she felt. Where will my child be born, Lord? I am certain he will survive, but will I? Though Joseph has no recorded dialogue in Scripture, he no doubt encouraged his young bride, mile after difficult mile. I heard from an angel too, Mary. I know whose child you carry. I will care for you and keep you both safe.
A few miles beyond Jerusalem, the town of Bethlehem finally came into view. Nine months of expectation were over. Time for the Christ child to appear.
Chapter Six: The Wondrous Gift Is Given
Read Luke 2:1–20
In a grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, a silver star marks the traditional site where Jesus was born. But two thousand years ago, his birthplace looked nothing like this.
Mary labored in a lowly stable, and laid the Son of God in a feed trough meant for livestock. However fresh the hay, there was nothing clean about the place, nothing pleasant, nothing fragrant.
Even so, God came to us. Cast his lot with us. Became one of us.
“She gave birth to her firstborn, a son” (Luke 2:7). A handful of words, as simple and humble as her surroundings. Mary wrapped him in strips of cloth, cocooned him in linen, and held him close.
Surely she wiped away tears of joy and relief, kissed his brow with trembling lips, counted his fingers and toes, then took him to her breast.
Everything about this birth was both ordinary and extraordinary.
The Son of God wasn’t born to a princess; he was born to a poor, uneducated young girl. His first bed wasn’t covered in gold; it was stained with dung. He didn’t come in power; he came as a helpless newborn.
From his very first breath, the Son of God turned the world on its head. He identified with the poor, the meek, the lowly, rather than the rich, the influential, the popular. “He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Philippians 2:7).
Not this kind of servant…
…but this kind of servant.
The kind of servant who later said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Luke 18:22).
Mary had treasure on earth: the Son of God, nestled in her arms. We have an even greater treasure: the Spirit of God, residing in our hearts. He is the One who urges us to value what is truly valuable, and let go of things that aren’t treasure at all, but trash. Disposable, unnecessary.
An interesting lesson for the Christmas season, isn’t it? While we spend, spend, spend on gifts that are quickly forgotten, neglected, discarded, the Lord is gently reminding us, “The gift that matters is my Son, who came to earth with nothing.”
I don’t believe God is saying, “You must be poor,” but I do believe he is saying, “You must love the poor, serve the poor, care for the poor. Be willing to have less, so others might have more.”
And who were the first to come see God’s Son? Of course. Poor shepherds, living in the fields, with no roof over their heads except heaven.
If you’ve been reading The Women of Christmas, were you surprised to discover that shepherds in that time were despised and considered unreliable? How like God, to choose them as his witnesses. And oh, how he got their attention!
First one angel, shining in glory, proclaimed the “wonderful, joyous news” (Luke 2:10) and described how and where they would find this heavenly gift.
Then a whole host of angels filled the skies above Bethlehem, praising God and singing, “Gloria in excelsis Deo!” (Angels always sing in Latin, right?) Okay, then. “Glory to God in the highest heaven” (Luke 2:14) will do nicely.
And peace for those who love him. Peace with God, peace with one another.
The shepherds took off at a trot, the angels’ song still ringing in their hearts. Once they saw the child, they began spreading the news and giving God the glory. No wonder people were amazed. Shepherds heard a host of angels? Shepherds saw the Son of God?!
Back at the stable, Mary was still processing all that had happened. Treasuring, pondering, storing them in heart, “trying to understand them” (Luke 2:19).
Being a new mother, and at such a young age, would be overwhelming enough. Who could ever feel adequate to the task of raising God’s Son? Even so, she did what moms do best: she loved her child.
Not only did Mary trust God; God also trusted Mary.
When God gives us an assignment, he never leaves us to fend for ourselves. He is with us, always. Guiding, leading (and occasionally dragging, in my case). Mary was not alone, and neither are we. Whether we are called to manage a household or manage a business—or both at once—God is with us.
Like the angels, like the shepherds, like Mary and her Magnificat, we’re to glorify God with every step we take. That’s our greatest calling and our greatest assurance of peace, every season of the year.
From the Study Guide
God could have come to earth in any form he wished, yet he came as a child. In Mark 10:14, Jesus tells his disciples, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” What are some of the admirable qualities that children have? In what ways could you become more childlike in your faith?
Sometimes I think I am like a child: stubborn, willful, disobedient, whiny. Wait. I asked for their admirable qualities. Young children can be innocent, open, trusting, playful, joyful, hopeful, eager to learn, willing to try, unencumbered by stuff, ready to go.
Innocence is hard to recapture when you’ve been down some dark roads. But God is slowly scrubbing clean those vivid memories, so that not only are the sin and shame washed away, but also the images the enemy wants me to revisit. Thank you, Lord.
Openness is easy for me on the platform, more challenging in print, and much harder in private. Backwards, I know, but there it is. Same thing with trust issues. As for playful, joyful, and hopeful, I’m all in. Eager, willing? Sure. Unencumbered by stuff? Not there yet, but it’s coming. After a few decades of packing, moving, arranging, and cleaning the same stuff, over and over and over, I’m seeing the advantages of letting go of it.
Childlike in my faith? That, too, seems to be increasing with age. Weird, eh? Could be because I’m growing more dependent on the Lord, and less dependent on my own efforts. As we’ve said here many times, God has this. Good thing, because I don’t, and I know I don’t. That old hymn, “I need thee every hour”? Around here I sing, “I need thee every minute.”
I do, Lord. That’s why I never let go of your hand.
Thank you for never letting go of mine.
Now it’s your turn
Two questions I hope you’ll consider:
- Was there something in Chapter Six that struck you afresh?
- In what ways could you become more childlike in your faith?
Please respond under Post a Comment below. I read each one and am continually blessed by your wisdom and your honesty.
Look for next week’s post on Thursday, the day after Christmas. Can it truly be so close?
Your sister, Liz
P.S. If you’re enjoying reading The Women of Christmas, I’d be very grateful if you posted a brief review on Amazon, Christianbook, or Barnes&Noble. Your words will help other readers decide if this book is right for them. Thanks so much for considering it.
I never realized before this lesson that shepherds were considered to be such lowly dirty people. Prejudice has been around since Cain & Able. How like our Lord to come to us in a way we could relate! Thank u Liz, for sharing your God given gifts, your testimony & your love. Look forward to your visit on Christmas Eve !
“God came to us. Cast his lot with us. Became one of us.” This glorious truth amazes and awes me over and over and over again. It’s so beautiful and wonderful and – best of all! – TRUE!
Oct., Nov., Dec., have not been my own. Many, many changes in my life have taken place and because of that I have not had time for my favorite activites, number one being studying your lessons. Today I decided my daily schdule is going to be interrupted.
I read the lesson, later I will study it and hide it in my heart, but for now i am holding onto your words, whatever assignment God has given us, he will never leave us to handle it by ourself.
Victory is ours in overcoming old lifestyles and thoughts, however I have learned that I have to want to be and do what Christ wants no matter the circumstancs. Trust me it does get eaiser the more we fall in love with God.
Have a wonderful Christmas.
Obedience is a key in the child like status to me. Parents expect there children to obey commands instantaneously. Is God that more important?
Marge! I am right there with you! I have a huge backlog in my ‘ lessons from Lizzie’ folder. But today my whirlwind of life hanging drama took a pause due to illness (God’s usual choice to settle me down
I will be asking Jesus to minister to you and to bring a healing. He is so faithful. The one thing never stop doing no matter how busy we are, read His word, if ilness prevents you from reading get the Bible on CD and play it, for me it is my strength, encouragement, and hope.
I have always liked the fact that the shepherds were the lowest of the low. Too often our society only sees those who are influential, powerful, rich and famous. Thanks for reminding us of the shepherds’ status in their community. As for myself, I tend to feel like I’m “on the shelf”. I’m disabled, retired, and aside from volunteering at a number of places like the Humane Society and Friends of Feral Felines and Community Foodshare and my church library, I really don’t seem to have any purpose in my life. I used to be the director of the Boulder Valley School District Adult Educations Program and I worked with countless agencies throughout Boulder County. I wrote grants and defended them. I taught ESL to people from all over the world. But in 2003 I had four strokes. I am a walking miracle in that I am not paralyzed in any way, my eyesight is good, and my speech is good. God had to get my attention with the strokes because I was living a life of incredible sin before I had them. But now I live in a neighborhood I don’t like. Have no work besides volunteering, and tend to feel that I am paying for my past sins. I know God has forgiven me, but I am also aware that we get to live with the consequences of the paths we’ve chosen. I’m enjoying the “Women of Christmas” very much. Also just read Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Greatest Gift. I thank you both for sharing your God-given insights with all of us.
Merry Christmas Liz, I am enjoying your book so much and your style of writing.” The Wondrous Gift Is Given” is the perfect gift to give everyone.
I enjoyed your post this morning. If only we could all be humble and come to Him as little children.
You are such a blessing Liz Curtis Higgs. Merry Christmas!
I never thought of it quite this way before, but our precious Saviour, who was sent to us so we could be made clean, had to arrive in a dirty stable. As for childlike attributes that could help me in my faith, I think I hang on to some of my stubbornness for reinforcement. I know this sounds odd, but when people try to discourage me or cause me to doubt, my stubborn side just keeps saying, “God said it. I believe it. And that’s all I need.”
Pretty packages under the tree are tantalizing to a child. There is an eagerness there that causes jittery jumping and I-can’t-wait dancing. Sugar plum fairies not withstanding, sleep is over-rated, and hurry up mode for THE day kicks into overdrive! It is this eagerness I strive to feel, for opening the Word, for basking in His truth, for entering church doors and women’s small groups, and most assuredly for THAT day when He will come like a thief in the night….I am jittery-jumpy, cartwheeling across the room, downright giddy in anticipation!
This time of year always makes me more aware of God’s tremendous love for me and the rest of mankind and just how unworthy I am to be the recipient of this love. An interesting question was brought up this week at Bible Study. Joseph’s ancestor’s came from Bethlehem, the City of David, and the area surrounding. Surely there must have been relatives still in the area. Today if we have relatives coming from out of town we quite often give them lodging, even with all the motels and hotels surrounding us. There were not lots and lots of Holiday Inns, Comfort Inns, or Hampton Inns in Bethlehem at that time but probably just a very few inns. Did the fact that Joseph’s relatives did not offer a place for Mary and him to stay mean that due to Mary’s becoming pregnant without being married mean that relatives and friends had shunned them and they were outcasts? If so, can you imagine what Mary and Joseph went through in order to bring the Messiah into the world!
I absolutely loved on page 125 where you say that The Lord chose to be born into poverty…it is so true and a good reminder that we need to always consider and pour into those who are less fortunate than we are.
I have always loved your writing style! You pull me into the story and make it come alive! I have read everything you’ve written (I think). I was fortunate to see you in OKC at Mardel and you were even more exciting and animated in person. Thank you for using the gift our Father gave you. It helps women like me fall in love with the Savior even more.
I have enjoyed your book and study about the Women of Christmas. But when you talk about the stable where Jesus was born you speak of it as being dirty and not fragrant. I grew up on a farm so the stable may have been dirty just because animals were housed
there. The fragrance of new hay or fresh straw is wonderful and then the smell of cows and and the warmth of their bodies to me speaks comfort. Yes the birthing room was not her home in her own bed surrounded by family, friends and a midwife. The room was a stable filled with God’s precious animals giving their body heat, their soft sounds and whatever God had required of them.
I never really considered just how much Mary had to endure, and how eager she was to do it! The public shame, stoning . . .!? Also I was blessed by how God chose her, an ordinary girl. Then there is Joseph, who stepped up to be by her side. God certainly knew what He was doing when He chose His Son’s earthly parents! Then to be born in a smelly stable! I have mucked out many barns in my youth – no place for any baby, let alone my Lord! To think of Him fully man, yet fully God and so tiny as too young to hold up His Head just makes my heart so tender – especially knowing why He came! Lastly, angels appearing to dirty shepherds! Many times in my life, I’ve stumbled and felt “dirty”, too dirty. Then I remember the shepherds at night and I know, Jesus will always wash me white as snow.
Liz, we have a little Bible study group that normally meets on Thursday during our lunch hour. We decided to do the Women of Christmas. I am really having a lot of fun doing this study. I know I have read the Christmas story all my life, but sometime when you are studying the story again there is things that come out and different opinion makes you think some. I have always loved your books and I still do. That for making me and my group think a little different.
I haven’t commented on any of the Bible study posts yet. I like to hang back and soak things up. However, after reading The Women of Christmas, I must say that this gave me a LOT to ponder. I have learned so much from these women, Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna. But I have also learned a lot just reading this story again of Jesus’ birth. To tell the shepherds FIRST about Him. Wow! But isn’t it just like God to use those who are thought worthless to proclaim a most important message? He still does it today! It blows my mind! You asked how I could be more childlike in my faith… I think about how Mary was likely a child herself when Gabriel visited her with the news. And she only asked questions because she wanted to know…got her answer…and then just accepted it. What if we all did that. Just accept it. Don’t analyze it…just accept it. It really isn’t as hard as it sounds.
Two comments from chapter spoke to me: on page 125, “those who are full of themselves must be emptied for their Savior to enter in” and page 137, “Oh to be like Mary–quiet, humble, willing, obedient, focused”. The Lord has definitely been speaking to me about emptying myself of my anger and negative stuff that eats away my joy. I tend to talk and whine too much about my circumstances. What a example for me to be a woman that has a heart like Mary!! The childlike faith of just trusting the One who holds my life in His hands and find joy in the simple things in life would certainly change my life!!! Thank you Liz for your faithfulness to your commitment to lead us deeper into God’s word!!
Your words in this chapter brought more life to the real story of the Nativity. The shepherds as undesireables in society. The less than ideal setting for a birth. I really felt the message come forth that Jesus, born in such a humble setting, God choosing the “lowest” in society to be the first…it does carry the true message of helping the poor, giving, providing, sharing with those who are less fortunate. To humble ourselves to help those who have the least. What we “have” is not really ours anyway.
One thing stands out to me today; the way the chief players have conceded to the will of God in spite of the personal repercussions – Elizabeth, Zechariah, Mary And Joseph. Sometimes (a lot of times?) in this day we concede to God’s purposes inasmuch as it costs us little. You made the comment above “Not only did Mary trust God; God also trusted Mary.” I question myself. Am I willing to carry out God’s mandates “in spite of”? When God gives me an assignment I want to be the kind of woman God can trust to get it done! Thanks for the reminder that God is with us, equipping us for all He calls us to. As for what I can learn from a child – to have simple faith instead of the cynical faith of the average 21st century adult.
Liz on a personal note…
It amazes me how often I am able to relate to you. Again today! “Openness is easy for me on the platform, more challenging in print, and much harder in private. Backwards, I know, but there it is. Same thing with trust issues. As for playful, joyful, and hopeful, I’m all in. Eager, willing? Sure. Unencumbered by stuff? Not there yet, but it’s coming. After a few decades of packing, moving, arranging, and cleaning the same stuff, over and over and over, I’m seeing the advantages of letting go of it.” This could be me! Sometimes I think God “introduced me to you” just for what you could bring to my life. Thank you for your ministry. It was a milestone moment for me to meet you in person in Newfoundland, Canada about 3 years ago. Blessings to you and your family at this special Christmas season. P.S. I made More Grandma’s Gingerbread last evening – my family loved it (as did I)!
Thank you, Liz, for bringing me(and all of us) into the reality of the marvelous birth of our Christ and Messiah. While reading and thinking upon the story, it has brought me down to earth, so to say, in observing His birth instead of the overwhelming sparkle & glitz we have come to celebrate it with. Reading the circumstances of Christ’s birth has humbled me to just light a candle in representation of the “Light” that was brought into this dark world by God our father. That is my worship of thanksgiving, the candle. I have an advent calender, golden bells, and a bunch of poinsettias in my front window as well as a small decorated unlighted tree but, the candle and God’s word is what I do to focus on Jesus Christ’s birth. And of course studying and following your blog on this ‘Woman of Christmas’ is also a big part of my celebration. May we all have a Holy Christmas.
Wow, this story is timeless and so timely – always. I like what you said that Mary trusted God, but also that God trusted Mary. And some trust that was, to raise Him from a tiny little defenseless baby…so amazing, we can hardly take it all in! And it is true, the older we get our faith doe becomes more childlike. I totally trust Him now as a grandmother, than I did when I first accepted Him into my heart at 14. I think much of it is experiencing Him, and seeing how faithful our God is over and over again. I can now trust Him without a doubt. Not that I aways understand what He’s doing, and I may not like the outcome, but I do know that He does all things perfectly! His ways are not my ways, we can’t possibly see the “big” picture as God does. He is always working for our good, and has our best interests at heart. What is there not to trust with a God like that!
Have a blessed Christmas Liz!
For me, child- like is faith-full. Children learn trust as their simple physical needs are met. Can I do any less? I love the trust of Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph. God knew their hearts; they trusted God. Because of that trust, they have a permanent place in Christ’s story. Simple people, simple faith, child-like trust. That is Christmas’s gift. Trust opens us to Our God, allows him to heal our brokenness . Oh how precious the gift of Christ for each of us!
I have so enjoyed the Women of Christmas and reading it along with Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift has really added to the true meaning of Christmas and provided so many new insights. I always try to give gifts to loved ones and friends that I have put thought and love into and thus anticipate that the receiver of the gifts will appreciate and like them and use them and show them off. How much more does our God want us to do that with His GIFT! These Bible studies have helped me to more fully understand what accepting His GIFT must mean to God. Let us not only accept this gift, but love and treasure it, appreciate all that comes with it and show it off to the rest of the world. A very blessed Christmas to all! Rejoice for unto us is given a Savior! The GIFT of eternal life with HIM. Thank you, Jesus, thank you!