As we prepare spiritually for the birth of our Lord this Christmas season, may we pray for the Grace to fully receive Him in our hearts. When we fix our gaze on the image of the child Jesus lying in a manger, let us absorb the innocence and simplicity of the birthing place against the backdrop of a much larger picture. Here is God, the Father, in human form lying on a bed of straw. Doesn’t sound like a royal bed place by any means does it? But is it?
What is it about the straw that provides a cushion for this Holy of Holies? What profound meaning does this lifeless bi-product of wheat portray? Straw is the hollow stalk of wheat that remains after the grain and chaff have been separated and removed. In the Old Testament we learn of the process of harvesting wheat. It is picked from the field and gathered into sheaves to dry out before being taken to the threshing floor. A threshing floor is a place where the sheaves of wheat are placed upon a hard surface and trampled over by oxen pulling a flat sled which crushes the stalks – separating the fruitful grain from the unneeded chaff. Winnowing is then done which is the process of blowing the chaff away leaving only the necessary grain for food and the remaining stalks, or straw. Straw is then used for many other incidental purposes, none greater in history than a resting place for our child Savior.
We are reminded of the importance of the threshing floor in our own lives. It is a place where we can go before the Lord and ask him to separate the good from the bad, and the true from the false in our life. It is a place where judgment and testing take place within the confines of our heart as God winnows away all that impedes our growth and is unnecessary in our life – leaving only what is good and beneficial for His purposes. When we allow the threshing and winnowing of our inner spirit, what remains is an eternal blessing – a life with Christ that sustains us and insulates us from the chaff of our world that comes disguised as fear, hurtful experiences, disappointments, unforeseen circumstances, false beliefs, pride, righteousness, and so on.
When we sit at the threshing floor and obediently let our Maker do his work, we are preparing our hearts for true worship. (1 Chronicles 21:18, NIV) And we can only worship authentically if we sacrifice that which God calls us to let go of. For it is when we say the words of Jesus, “yet not as I will, but as You will” that we enter into true communion with our Redeemer. It is at the threshing floor that, like Ruth, we meet face-to-face with our Kinsman Redeemer and offer ourselves to our Bridegroom, thus entering into the Holy Marriage between Christ and us, the Church. (Ruth 3, NIV). This relationship with the Son of God comes from the finest wheat, for it was Ruth and Boaz’s son Obed who brought Jessie into this world and from the root of Jesse came David. And it is the “House of David” from which our Savior was born. When we feast on the grain of Christ’s covenant love, a bounty God meticulously harvested through the years, we are awarded a life full of balance and rhythm no matter how much shaking up comes our way.
I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:7-9 (NIV) that says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”
Sheaves of wheat are hard pressed on every side by oxen and sleds, but the good kernels of grain are not crushed. The judgment and testing at the threshing floor may leave us perplexed as God separates what is good from which is valueless in our life, but we are not abandoned or left to despair. Each sheave is struck down and then thrown in the air so the useless chaff blows away in the wind – but the bounty is not destroyed. We can liken this to choosing to allow God to remove the parts of us that are “of the world” so that we may die to self and become “one with Christ.” And at the end of the day what remains in the jars of clay, symbolic of our weak and earthly bodies, is the all-surpassing power of God working within us to bring blessings to the lives of others.
So when we see that straw in the manger this year, let us remember where it came from. Let us ask ourselves where we have come from and where we are going in our journey. Regardless of where we find ourselves right now, whatever season is in our midst, may we frame our current story within the context of the greater story - the story of a miracle baby who came to live among us and took our sins upon His back so that we could live forever in His Glory. That is the greatest gift of Christmas. We won’t find it on-line, at Wal-Mart or even at the Mall. We will find this gift every day at the threshing floor where we can always meet the King of Kings lying on a bed of straw.