Every so often, my dad likes to tell stories about his summers on the fragrant patch of earth known as an Oregon dairy farm. And he’s the one who explained this proverb to me:
“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” Proverbs 14:4, ESV.
Dad says it like this: cows make a mess, but if you do not have them, you do not get any work done on the farm.
I have to admit that my mind wanders to Christmas these days, so I immediately thought of Jesus in the manger. He jumped into the mess of daily living from the start. And that is what this is all about. It takes making a mess to construct something better.
So often in my life I am frustrated by how often I repeat mistakes and mess up again and again. But that is the mess of life. Rather than focusing on the problem, this verse points us to look at the outcome. In the end, God works the messes and mistakes of learning hearts and constructs them into strong character and stories of good.
The picture of working on a farm brought to mind all the harvesting imagery of the New Testament, especially John 4 and Jesus’ appointment with an outcast Samaritan woman. God brought a harvest out of one of the least likely places. If the disciples were focused on the mess of Jewish and Samaritan social struggles, they would have missed one of the most powerful examples of Jesus’ outreach and ministry.
Earlier in Proverbs 4 is a verse contrasting how the wise woman builds up her household and societal standing while a foolish woman tears it down. How do we do that as a spiritual church. Do we let the messes of the manger drive us to OCD showdowns? Or do we focus on the big picture of what God is doing to transform lives in the midst of this messy world?
God, I think You see the world as abstract art, with emotion and energy running in crazy patterns that are not easy to recognize. I have to admit that most of the time I only see the messy manger, rather than the progress of what is being accomplished. Please help me to see better, especially as we look to Christmas. Thanks for jumping into our messes in the manger, and for the lessons we can learn from the farm. Amen.