A Hard Place


All of my childhood and a bit beyond, I believed and pictured Jesus born in a stable. You know, a wooden barn-like structure. Maybe, a lean-to with sides open or with all sides enclosed. A product of American Christianity; biblical words were translated and explained by American understanding of the concept…. “a place where animals stayed.”

I’m not sure when my concept changed, but somewhere it happened. I learned, in Israel,  a place where animals were kept … was a cave. The visual was not complete, for me, until our visit to Bethlehem. Descending to the cave under the Church of the Nativity, the full concept filled my senses.

My heart froze with unexpected sadness

and the cruel reality…

This was a HARD place. A VERY hard place.

A stony rock hewn hole in the hill. A place where shepherds kept sheep: families kept animals. Rock upon rock upon rock. No plumbing, no household comforts, no electricity, no medical equipment, no sterility, no antibacterial anything. In fact, quite the opposite. It would have contained dirty animals, feeding trough (manger) complete with animal saliva, animal excrement, shed hairs/fur, and stinky aromatics. No blanket, no pillows, no bed, no hint at convenience or coziness. This was an immensely hard place! I doubt it even had straw/hay!

My eyes filled with tears and I found myself, as a woman who has borne children, wanting to weep an ugly-cry. I cannot imagine giving birth in such a place. My stomach felt nauseated and my heart-sick; what a very sad place to birth a child. The horrid realization: not just ANY child was born here, but the God-man. God coming to earth. Divinity inhabiting humanness. Immanuel, God with us, dwelling among us. The Promise of old… fulfilled. Never before and never again. Longed for, waited for, prayed for…. The Hope of the world!

In this obscure dark dank cavern, the Light of the World was born.

Yet … the ones praying, longing, anticipating, waiting, didn’t even notice. Hide a light in a cave and there is low visibility. Israel defining The Messiah’s coming by their understanding of the concept… expected a King entering with pomp, parade, and high visibility. 

Just as I interpreted Jesus birthplace by my experience with animals and stables, Israel, interpreted The Messiah’s coming by their known experience with royalty and human expectations.

We can miss and misunderstand when we try to understand God and the Bible with human eyes. Sometimes, we have to dig for understanding, not presume. Many times, we have to ask God to sharpen our spiritual vision; bring understanding beyond our humanness.


Bethlehem home with stable below.


As you celebrate Jesus’ birth, look with new eyes. Don’t presume or assume you know the narrative. Ask God to show you something new, engage your senses, and open your heart. 

Contemplate a teenage girl, laying in a stone cave,

delivering her precious gift from heaven …

The long awaited MESSIAH,

hidden from the world; in a very HARD place. 


If you are in a “Hard” place this season, there’s Hope:

God completely understands and can birth the most extraordinary miracles

in darkness and extremely hard places.


Hard Places Birth Hope and Light,


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6 thoughts on “A Hard Place

  1. Truly amazing, Elaine. I never knew this. Thank you for educating me. Merry Christmas to you and your sweet family, my friend. Connie Brown


  2. Elaine,

    This may be your best yet. Beautifully written and such a good word! Thank you!

    Linda Taylor Ember to Blaze Ministries, Inc. 7665 Saddlebrooke Drive Knoxville, TN 37938-4044 cell: 770-354-5909 http://www.embertoblaze.org

    > WordPress.com


  3. oh thank you so much for the visual and the words — I’ve known for a long time this was true but honestly the first time I’ve seen the actual birthplace and thought of it as a mother who gave birth in a hospital fully equipped.


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