When Christmas comes around, there is one thing that makes me feel rich and it isn’t having a lot of money to buy gifts. It’s firewood.
I don’t know where or when it began but, having firewood stacked is a comforting feeling for me. Perhaps it is some ancestral emotion I inherited from long ago, but there is something about a fire in the fireplace that tells me all is well and that we are safe. You know what I’m talking about…right? The crackling of the fire; the long light it casts at night when the lights are low, the glowing of the embers… they all provide a comfort that is very tangible. It makes me pull my sweetheart a little closer, smile a little larger and think a little deeper.
A fireplace makes me remember people and places too. The flames flickering bring back images of campouts long ago, visits to my favorite place in the world…Brown County State Park, and fire pits around which I, my wife and friends used to sit and laugh. I remember building fires for my children to sit around when they were younger. A good fire draws people around it for warmth and while we are gathered we interact with one another.
In fact, after one has taken the requisite number of pictures of it, a fire becomes almost a “No Device Zone”. People put away their phones to stare into the fire and make conversation…mostly about how they love a good fire, but sometimes they tell you something deep…they make a comment about a time long ago, or a loved one far away. And I began thinking about that tonight as I sat looking into the fire.
I remember snow falling for the first time in Tucson Arizona. Well, it was the first time for my children and little family. Living in the desert southwest, the last thing one has in the drawer are gloves. But I remember my oldest son Isaac at only 4 or five, putting a pair of my white gym socks on his hands and going out to try to scape up enough snow to make a snowball. I thought about times when, in Northern Kentucky, where you DO expect snow to fall when it came down so deep and thick, that we could sled down a big hill and onto the frozen lake. Coming in with pink cheeks and frozen fingers to stand around the fireplace and warm up.
I remember skating in Columbus Indiana at Lincoln park when the Ice-skating rink was still without a roof and outside and how packed it would be. There was a constant fire going inside in the fireplace and we would eat hand made pretzels and hot chocolate around it.
I think there is another reason I am comforted by firewood. A big stack of firewood tells me there is a provision that has been made for my comfort. When I look at a cord of firewood…(four feet high, four feet wide, eight feet long…thanks Bruce!), it tells me someone labored to cut, season, gather and stack it in preparation of the time when it would be needed.
There was no firewood in the little stable near Bethlehem though. I wasn’t there, but I’ll betcha there wasn’t. It was a place the animals were fed and kept in stalls and no kidding, there were all kinds of poo on the ground, because…well, there just was. There may have been a lantern lit by Joseph or the owner of the stable where he and Mary were allowed to spend the night. And it was cold. There was a star in the East, that shone brightly that night…but there was no music or bells, or a comfy bed. Mary did the best she could to make her newborn child comfortable; placing him inside of a feed manger lined with straw and lots of swaddling cloth.
Joseph most likely stood at or near the entrance of the little stable, keeping watch out over the landscape to protect his little family. He didn’t know it was Christmas… no one did. He just knew it was cold, and dark and smelly and he most likely felt like a poor provider for his wife. Maybe he looked out over the distance and could see into a home of the owner of that stable where a fire roared in the fireplace around which that family gathered. I’m sure he shook his head and wondered why this was the only place he could find and probably asked himself if the whole thing about this child had been real…an angel appearing, Mary miraculously pregnant.
In the distance, there were figures walking toward them. Joseph grabbed his staff and told Mary someone was coming. Taking his stand in front of the stable, the men drew closer and they were carrying a torch and had wagons behind them. As they approached, one of them, spoke up.
“We…excuse me sir, we were told that a child has been born.” Joseph would have just looked at them and asked them to repeat that and one of the others would have said, “Sir, we are shepherds and…” he would turn around to look at the other shepherds with him for moral support then continue. “and, we were out with our sheep when something happened…” Another shepherd would speak up…”An angel…it was in the sky and told us that a baby savior had been born and we were led to this place….I know it’s crazy but we swear to you sir, we are not drunk.”
Inside of Joseph something like a deep sigh stirred and almost instantly tears appeared in his eyes. It was true!!! This baby that wasn’t his WAS someone special! His breathing increased and is pulse began to race. He asked, “Say that again…tell me what you just said again!” grabbing the first shepherd by the shoulders. And so, the third shepherd repeated the story, but this time he added, “An angel of the Lord appeared to us, and the glory of the Lord shone around us, and we were terrified. But the angel said to us, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Christ….whom you have been waiting for…THE LORD!
Inside of the stable, the baby whimpered and his mother pulled a cloak over the mound of swaddling cloths wrapped tightly around the baby. Joseph looked into the eyes of the four or five men before him. Around them were many of their sheep and of course the wagon. He turned to look inside the stable and his eyes met Mary’s. She was grinning…ear to ear and shook her head as if to say, “Please let them come in!”
One by one they would come in and kneel before the manger. They smelled bad… weeks out in the open with sheep. Some of them looked at the face of the baby…taking it in like the once in a lifetime opportunity it was. As they stood, they would perhaps bow or show honor to the mother and then exit. They set up a small camp right there…and for the first time in Jesus’ life… as Kings and others from the East arrived to bring him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, the shepherds…the lowest of the low on the social ladder at that time did the one thing they knew they could offer. Taking wood from off their wagon…they built a fire to bring comfort and protection from the darkness.
Remember that even on the coldest of nights, when all the promises you have received don’t seem true or when all of the prophecies made over your life don’t look like they are ever going to happen, you are on the verge of a miracle. Someone somewhere is on their way to confirm the very thing God has promised to you.
It may seem that you have been led into a smelly and cold situation, but God’s plans are designed to outwit the enemy and are not always understood by his children. He knows what you need, He has not forgotten you. You are not hidden from God…he sees you wherever you are and He is coming!!! He is coming by the most unexpected way possible and just as a bonus, He is bringing firewood for you and for me!