“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them at the inn.”
I’ve always associated Christmas with endings; it is at the end of the year after all. It marks the end of a long semester full of hard work or maybe a difficult year that we’re desperate to get out of. It’s a time of well-earned rest and celebration. Yet Christmas isn’t really about endings. Really it’s about beginnings.
That’s why I chose this obscure and super random verse to talk about here. Jesus didn’t just appear on earth as a fully grown man. He was born, He grew up, He matured, He learned, He developed. As the Son of God Jesus has always existed, but as God made flesh He had a beginning in a manger out back of an inn in an insignificant town called Bethlehem. It’s hard to imagine a more humble beginning for such a towering figure in human history.
What is the point of saying this? Well, because there is a lesson to be learned here. Christmas teaches us a lot of things - generosity, thankfulness, grace, self-sacrifice - but there are some lessons in the story of Jesus’ birth that are easy to miss. One of them is this: everyone has a beginning in their faith, and there is no shame in being at that beginning. There is no shame in only just starting your journey simply because someone else is further down the path than you. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. With this in mind, I want to share a few observations.
First, take this truth to heart for yourself. You may be a new Christian looking at the gifts and lives of others and lamenting that you’re not quite there, longing for the kind of freedom from sin that they seem to have. Give yourself a little slack because, in the wise words of the inimitable Kanye West, “you need to crawl before you ball.” It’s okay to need a little time to get off the ground and really get rolling. It’s even expected. Jesus didn’t jump up and start walking around preaching as soon as He came out. He didn’t actually begin His ministry until He was 30. He had to grow up, and that included going through all the growing pains that entails.
Which brings me to my second point: it’s okay to be at the starting line, but you can’t just hang out there forever. If a winner never actually starts running, is he really even in the race? He’s definitely not gonna get the medal. Growing in any area is hard, and your faith is no different. Like I said, there are growing pains. Just look at the path of Peter - he went from fisherman to Jesus’ inner circle to literally being called Satan by the Messiah Himself to denying Jesus to being one of the primary leaders of the infant church. It doesn’t happen overnight and it’s hard, but the results are more than worth the struggle. Run the race and don’t give up. You’ll be blown away by who God molds you into.
Lastly, remember that you’re not the only one who has a beginning. Every Christian has to start somewhere, even the greatest titans of the faith the church has seen. Recognize that some of the people around you are still in the infancy of their faith and you shouldn’t expect them to be at the same maturity level as someone who’s been walking with Jesus for 10 years (although if they are, that’s awesome). Everyone has to start somewhere, and as Christians it’s our privilege to walk alongside people on their journey. It’s not a chore or a burden - it’s a privilege and a gift. Maybe one day that girl who frustrates you with her inconsistency or hypocrisy blows you away with her faithfulness and strength. Who knows? But she needs someone to walk with her to get there. Bear with people, help carry their burdens, and one day you’ll both look back at that beginning overcome with awe at what God has done.
Beginnings can be imposing. Looking at the long path ahead of you, especially with all its pitfalls and twists and turns, can be enough to even make you wonder why you should bother. But beginnings are also bursting with possibility and hope. There’s a whole journey to be enjoyed ahead of you, and as wonderful as that journey is the destination is even greater. Most importantly, God walks alongside you and laughs with you and cries with you every step of the way. He knows what beginnings are like. He knows how hard they can be. But He also knows how to not only survive them but thrive in them and bring you to the finish line. Trust Him and cherish the beginning of something beautiful.
“And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”