Our church’s Children’s Ministry needed a manger for baby Jesus for an upcoming Bible story. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much money to spend on it. We looked online, hoping we could find a deal, but mangers are pricey these days, so I volunteered to throw one together. My version might not be awesome, but at least it would be free.
I’d never built a manger before, but I figured how hard could it be? It’s basically a wooden box with legs. Easy peasy, right? I had a pile of scrap wood sitting behind my shed and a nail gun in my garage. Give me an hour and I’d knock this thing out.
Unfortunately I didn’t have an hour. My family was off for the week for fall break, and we’d been running every second. We threw a birthday party, ran to the pumpkin patch, took the kids ice skating and hosted a sleep-over, and for some reason my wife didn’t want me to be running the table saw in the backyard while my daughter and her friends were playing badminton and making s’mores. Go figure.
I finally managed to grab some time one afternoon in between all of our staycation activities. Because I was in a hurry, I just Googled “manger blueprints” and grabbed the first thing that came up. It looked simple enough.
Of course, once I actually started building it, that’s when everything went wrong. First up was my miter saw. When I went to plug it in, I saw the insulation around the cord had been gouged, exposing bare wire. That’s generally not good, but this was a rush job so I slapped some electrical tape on it and pressed on.
Then I realized my miter saw was off square. That meant that all the angles I had cut for the legs and end pieces were wonky. Instead of everything fitting together nice and pretty, I had to finagle it to make it look even halfway decent.
After that, things went from bad to worse. I was planning on using my nail gun to put most of it together, but needed to attach a couple of pieces with screws because the nails wouldn’t be long enough. That wasn’t a problem for the screws. They were way too long and popped out the other side. Not cool.
I was running out of time, and this project was going downhill fast. I was starting to feel the pressure now. I mean this was the manger we were talking about here. This was the crib for the King of Kings, the Savior of the world, God in the flesh. I was hoping it wouldn’t look like total junk.
Worst of all, the boards were narrow so I had a terrible time nailing them together. I didn’t have clamps or anyone to help me so I was trying to line up the wood and use the nail gun at the same time. The result? Several of the nails shot through the side of the boards and stuck out inside the manger. Not exactly what you want in a baby crib.
At this point I was really frustrated. I took it apart, pulled the nails out with pliers and started again, but no matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t keep the nails out of the manger.
And that’s when it hit me. That’s what Bethlehem was all about. The manger and the nails go hand in hand.
No matter how sweet and pretty we try to make the Christmas story, it’s just not. The manger wasn’t built for a baby. It was built for livestock. It wasn’t a setting for a Christmas pageant. It was the set up for the cross.
I realized my manger was just about right. Jesus didn’t come into a perfect world to congratulate us on a job well done. He came into our mess, into our mistakes, into our pile of junk, to offer us grace and show us the way home.
So this Christmas, if you have things in your life that feel more like a DIY fail than a picture-perfect success, remember that Jesus is right at home in the middle of your mess. In fact, it’s where He does His best work.
For more encouragement for the Christmas season, check out Holiday Road: A Christmas Devotional.