I stood in Bethlehem once.
There were stars unblinking in their brave hope, right there over that little town of Bethlehem.
I’d stood there, my neck craning, for a long time, right outside the Church of the Nativity, looking up with a holy imagination and prayers that deeply know that He’s the realest reality.
And then I’d finally turned and bent low to walk into the Church of the Nativity — because there is no finding Hope until you humble yourself to believe.
Our guide said the door is impossibly low so that pilgrims couldn’t ride their steeds, their camels, their donkeys, straight into the Church of His Nativity.
No one gets to meet God unless they get off their high horse, get down off of whatever other hopes and laurels they’re riding high on, counting on.
The doorway to God is made only for those who make themselves small and choose God their as all in all.
I’d stood silently with that for a long time by the carved inner door and something settles into me:
Any problem shrinks low when we highly exalt Christ.
When you bend low through that door and you come close to the place in Bethlehem and kneel down and touch the place where the Maker of the Heavens delivered Himself into earth, where the Creator of the Cosmos birthed Himself as a creature… where God came to this sod?
You’re crushed by unfathomable grace.
God is with us. God was one of us.
God let His divinity fill a container of skin and filled His lungs with all our atmosphere of ache.
We aren’t alone in this mess. We aren’t alone in any hopelessness.
Us on this pale blue dot of a planet in the vast blackness of the cosmos — we are “the visited planet.” He came. He sees. He knows. We are not alone. God is with us.
Kneeling there in Bethlehem, wrecked by the incomprehensibility of the Master of the Universe pulling on flimsy flesh, climbing over the walls of this world, slipping into time through the back door of the universe that is Bethlehem — all I can think was the the Holy Other curls His newborn fist in the cradle of a barn feed trough — and we are saved from ourselves.
We are saved from our hopelessness— because God came with infant fists and opened wide His hand to take the nail sharp edge of our sins.
Emmanuel, God is with us in our ache and He gave us more than explanations for all our messy brokenness —
God gave us an actual experience of Himself, because God knows explanations can be cold & Christ’s arms are warm.
When you kneel exactly where they say the Star-Maker first came and grazed earth, where the Hope-Bringer first inhaled all our dark into His holy lungs — you kinda exhale at how we’ve all been swept into the Light of the Land of the Living.
When you let your fingertips trace the stars they’ve engraved right into the floor of the Church of the Nativity, when you run your hands across those stars, over and over again, you can see how One came through all the cosmic dark like a star — and you can see all His starry light embracing your own naked broken, aching heart.
There is brokenness and failing and hurting and falling and grieving and heartache and there are times you don’t know how to breathe —but there is always, always, always Hope.
Hope is contagious, blazing, risky thing — and it can light a thousand more nights with countless stars.
Stories may not have gone as we hoped — but Hope is not gone. Hope comes down and Hope never stops coming.
No matter any outcome… Hope always still comes.
We can’t ever afford to lose Hope — or we lose our future, our faith, our fight, our fortitude.
The Star-Maker, the Wisdom-Carrier, the Hope-Holder — He took on skin and come with lung and lips and warm breath because this is the gift that all the heart bruised need: Hope resuscitates what you can’t afford to let die.
Let your broken heart prepare Hope room.
If you don’t let your heart prepare Hope room — it’s your own house that comes crashing down.
Prepare Hope room and room for the prodigal to come home, and the hard-hearted to change, and the hurting to not hurt, and the wounders to heal and the impossible to find a possible way, and let nothing stop you from following the star this Christmas.
Because Christmas is coming right now for our grief.
Christmas is coming right now for the sadness you can’t speak out loud, for the unspoken broken that you fear might break you, the Hope-Holder is coming — and Christmas is coming right now to crush all fears and despair and dark.
Because Christmas is about how Jesus came like a star through the dark, shut out the darkness by moving into our space, moving right in front of all our darkness — and eclipsing all heartbreak with His Light.
A heart can keep burning within…
And when I’d ascend the back stairs from the basement of the Church of the Nativity with its starry floor…. I stand at the back of the Church of the Nativity for awhile, looking up at the lit stained glass brokenness of His birth, rising there above the altar. Stand there — waiting. Waiting for God knows what.
Waiting for God.
And that’s the moment when I’d heard the slosh of water, heard a spilling of water, up near the altar.
And then a woman, bent and small, she’s stepped out of the shadows — with her mop.
I watched as she’d began this slow choreography of grace across the floor — with her mop.
She’s mopping up the birthplace of God.
She’s mopping up the mess down here — a bit like God came down here to mop up our mess. Our mess of hopelessness and fears and brokenness.
But I can hear music? Music echoing — ?
Where in the world is the music coming from? Haunting notes, high and lovely. From the dark? From behind the altar?
Her shoulders, her shoulders, are moving with the notes.
The music’s coming from her. The music’s coming from within her.
She turns with her mop and the whole thing feels like I’ve walked in on the heavenly host welcoming Him, anointing Him and I kneel low — like shepherds who have to bow in worship too — and something in me brims…. and spills.
O little town of Bethlehem…the hopes and fears of all our years…
We aren’t abandoned in all this — we get to let it all go and abandon ourselves to God.
We get to let go — and be small and let God do it all, be our all, make a way through it all.
We get to let go — and let God near.
And here is this exquisite woman with her bent back and humble mop letting her heart pour out to God, in the place where God first touched this sod, first let his loud cry mingle with humanity.
And I’m a kneeled mess and can’t stop spilling, my shoulders moving with the breaking of my heart over the beauty and rightness of her lowly offering right where He Himself came low and offered Himself.
The woman leans her mop up against a pew.
She steps in close toward me.
And then she cups my face in her wrinkled, warm hands.
What in the world is happening?
And then she gently kisses my one wet cheek — and then kisses my other wet cheek.
My tears are being kissed by a stranger — an angel? — in the birthplace of God. There’s hope in our hells when we become like Jesus to each other.
And all I can hear is this angelic whispering to a heartbroken world: “Do not be afraid — for you have found favor with God.”
Find favor with God — and fear has no way to find you.
And favor isn’t found merely with God — favor is found beside God. Favor is found by those who let God stay the closest beside them.
Favor isn’t grace for an easy trajectory — but enough grace for a hard task.
The woman’s eyes search me and my eyes search hers — and it’s this holy moment in Bethlehem, in the Church of the Nativity. This is a meeting. Our eyes meet and rest in each other — with each other. God with us.
And she nods and smiles and I try to smile brave through tears.
Bethlehem helps me to breathe a bit: You don’t have to work for the coming of the Lord—you don’t have to work for hope, work for rescue, work for Christmas.
There’s no performing Christmas, producing Christmas, or perfecting Christmas.
There is only Christmas finding us — grace finding even us. Hope finding even us. God with us.
He will prepare your heart for the coming of the Lord.
“This is the true preparedness of heart for coming to Christ—the preparedness of coming to Him just as you are,” Charles Spurgeon wrote.
He unfolds Himself in the stench you want to hide, in that mess that is your impossible, in the mucked straw you don’t want anyone to know. Rejected at the inn, holy God comes in small to where you feel rejected and small. God is with you now.
Wherever you are—in a soundless cry or hidden brokenness or in your ache—God always wants to be with you.
You are not ever left alone in this. We are never left alone in this; God is with us.
You always get your Christmas miracle. You get God with you.
The Woman with the Mop in the Bethlehem Birthplace of God, she stands in beside me, touches my streaming tears with her fingertips, wipes my cheek in this caress of communion and this right here is our modern day Christmas Eve miracle:
He kisses us with grace and holds us with hope and wraps us with love and we are safe.
And the Angel with a Mop in Bethlehem, she wipes away a bit of my spilling, and what happens tonight in Bethlehem wipes away all of our tears and all of our fears and all of our hopes are meeting Him right now.
He’s come and all of the unhappy things are going to become undone.
Read the Full Love Story of Christmas and know the Greatest Gift:
Jesus comes from the kind of family tree —
that proves He comes for your kind of family tree.
For the hurting & busted & messed up, Jesus comes to whisper:
“PEACE. I am with you & I am ALL YOUR PEACE.”
Because God is with us on Christmas Eve —
there is no room in any inn, any heart, any mind, any space for worry.
3 Award-Winning books for the Whole Family
The Greatest Gift (adult edition): Best Devotional of the Year, ECPA, 2014
Unwrapping the Greatest Gift (Family Edition): Best Inspirational Book of the Year, CBA, 2016
The Wonder of the Greatest Gift: Best Devotional & Gift Book of the Year, CBA, 2019
When our Christmas Eve is about Staying in the Story, being with Him —
Peace leads us — and we have ourselves The Greatest little Christmas yet!