In our new community, there is a women's Bible study group that meets in our clubhouse. Our leader is a passionate follower of Christ who had served as a missionary in Central America. Right before Christmas last year, she shared a story she had written about an answered pray for a fresh perspective on the story of Jesus' birth. The story led me to also see Jesus' birth from a new angle, and I asked to share it with you.
Essay written by Charlotte Rich, shared with permission:
It was Christmas time in the small Central American country and Helen, who had been serving there as a missionary for five years, was packed into the crowded old bus on her way to the capital city. Usually she bought what she needed for the special season at the little market in the small mountain town where she lived. But at this time of year, she needed some things that only could be found in the much larger city market. It was a trip of some hours on the narrow winding road. As she was jostled back and forth, crushed between an Indian mother nursing her baby and an older man balancing a cage of chickens on his lap, she began to ponder again on the real meaning of this holy time. Only that morning she had asked God to help her understand and appreciate the incarnation. For so many years had she read the Luke account of the birth of Christ until it had become so familiar that she could quote it by heart. But, in the process, it had become so commonplace and, she hated to admit, a bit boring.
Helen’s thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as the bus pulled up in front of the market. She could have known where they were if she had been blindfolded; the smell revealed the location. The front entrance was marked by a huge mound of garbage that had been there for several days. The people who frequented this market didn’t seem to mind the stench at all; it was just the way it was. To Helen, whose little house, although meager was always clean, the odors were almost more than she could bear.
The “market” was really a conglomeration of small open stalls rented by vendors from miles around who made their living selling their own kinds of wares—beans, chickens, tortillas, baskets, ponchos, carved wooden souvenirs, clap pots, soup, rice, various fruits and vegetables—and each stall was manned by a seller who tried to gain attention of the buyers by proclaiming the benefits of his product. These stalls were crowded together as tightly as Helen had been on the bus. Many stalls had a small canopy, made of wood or cardboard or cloth, covering the front of their booth to protect both their merchandise and the buyer from the sun or rain. However, the aisles between the booths did not have a roof over them, and the space was open to the sky and the weather.
Christmas time is rainy season in Central America, and rain had been heavy for days. Although it was not raining now, overhead could be seen heavy dark clouds, and the rain had already done its work—there was mud everywhere.
Helen’s senses were bombarded by unpleasant stimuli. A few skinny, starving dogs could be seen crawling beneath the tables hoping to pick up some scraps and refuse that had been dropped, while at the same time dodging the kicks of young and old alike. The meat hanging on hooks ready to be sold was covered with flies, and the hands that chopped the meat were unclean, with dirt-lined fingernails. Most of the vendors slept on their property to keep from being robbed. There were no sanitation facilities and they did the best they could to deal with their situation, but the result was a mixture of “people” odors along with all the other smells.
Helen went from booth to booth bargaining with the owners, amazed at the way these hard-working people accepted their lot. As she stopped at the stall of a man and his wife and small daughter, she watched as the young unkempt child, maybe about eight years old, walked around the outside of the stall. She had no shoes. Her tattered dress didn’t seem warm enough. An apron with a large front pocket was tied around her waist; inside the pocket she carried both vegetables and change. She walked through the crowd and sold her wares until her pocket was full. Then she came back to her home stall to unload the money and gather more vegetables to sell.
While Helen was observing this, she heard a small sound coming from under the counter of the family’s stall. It sounded like a kitten and Helen wondered how such a poor family could feed an extra mouth—and an animal, at that. The mother reached under the counter and pulled out a cardboard box. When Helen leaned over to look at the kitten, she was surprised to see a small dark-haired baby wrapped in grimy swaddling rags. The mother picked up her baby and began to nurse it from a soiled breast. A feeling of pity and distaste washed over Helen. That poor child! It was born into a world of poverty and filth; dirt and uncleanness were everywhere. She wanted to grab up the baby and take it home to give it a bath. What’s more, she wanted to get home and take a bath. Everywhere she looked was dirt, and she couldn’t handle any more. She made her purchase and hurried back to the bus. As she made her way past the garbage dump, she tried not to breathe, but she could not hold her breath forever, and that smell blanketed the area.
Finally, the bus started, and she was glad to be on her way. Oh, she felt so dirty. How thankful she was that she was not born in such a situation. It wouldn’t be long before she could enter a clean house, take a hot shower, and slip in-between clean sheets. She could hardly wait to be free of the mire and stench that were hers just from being in such a filthy environment.
Suddenly, Helen’s thought processes stopped! It was as if God opened a window into her mind and light was streaming through. Jesus was just like that baby in the box! He left a place of holiness and glory—a place with no sin of any kind—the pure, unsullied, hallowed, spotless presence of His father in Heaven and took the form of a human child to be born in an evil world full of, and surrounded by, sin. It was like the filth and stench of the market. Although no sin was in Jesus, everywhere he looked for all His life there would be sin—it was everywhere. Oh, how he must have missed Heaven! And, at the end of His life on earth, He took all that sin on Himself on the cross. And He did it voluntarily. Helen bowed her head and humbly thanked Jesus for all He had left and endured for her. How could she ever repay Him? The incarnation would never be the same for her. God had answered her prayer of the morning and had taught her a lesson that she prayed she would never forget.
As you read this story, I hope you pictured in your mind the sights and sounds and smells! Imagine this lovely woman, raised in the rich comforts of the United States, being thrust into this other world—a world of filth! Why? Because of love. She chose to show the love of Christ to those of a different world.
Now imagine Jesus thrust into the sin-stained world we live in. Why? Because of love. There is no greater love. Merry Christmas.