In this second Christmas post from December 2011 I reflected on my own feelings at my son’s birth and how it helped me look at Christ’s lowly birth from a different perspective. Recently one of our pastors spoke on how “God Came Near” with respect to His humanity. Jesus felt deep emotions, He valued and dignified humanity, He showed us what God is like, He fully understands all we go through, He was willing to temporarily put aside some what is rightfully His as a member of the Godhead in order to provide redemption for us.
Away in a Manger…This familiar Christmas carol takes many of us back to our earliest childhood memories of Sunday school programs, pageants, and recordings by various musicians. As I mentioned last week, my manger scene is the first decoration I put up as we approach the Christmas season. As I was trimming my tree this week, I decided to focus my next few blogs on significant aspects of the story of Christ’s birth recorded by Luke in the Bible. We read,
“While they were there (Bethlehem), the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7, NIV)
When I think back to my own son’s birth, it was a very cold January night with snow on the ground. But we were safe and warm in the relative comfort of a hospital with attentive nurses and doctors looking after us. I knew the best care was available and once my precious baby was taken to the nursery, I could start to relax and get much needed sleep and a little pampering.
Not so for Mary and the birth of her son, Jesus. Prophecy had revealed that the Saviour of the world would be born of a virgin and His name would be Immanuel, meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). He would also be called “Wonderful Counselor”, “Mighty God”, “Everlasting Father”, and “Prince of Peace”. (Isaiah 9:6) For a baby with such noble and esteemed titles, one would expect a birthplace fit for a king…perhaps a palace or at least the home of a high official or aristocrat.
It is evident from the verses above that Joseph had either arranged for the couple to stay at an inn or tried to find lodging once they arrived in Bethlehem. Because of the census being taken, it is likely all available rooms were filled and they arrived too late. Whatever the reasons, we know that God orchestrated all circumstances and individuals involved to accomplish His plan of sending His Son to this world. There was no vacancy at the inn and Joseph and Mary found themselves staying where animals were kept. Whether it was in a stable, cattle stall, barn, or cave we are not specifically told, but what we do know is that when Jesus was born, Mary lovingly wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger.
A manger was a feeding trough for animals. I can’t imagine not having a warm, fuzzy blanket to wrap my newborn son in, let alone having to lay him down in scratchy, dusty hay or straw lining a box that animals had fed from and drooled all over. Then there would be the unpleasant smells associated with the animals which probably grazed and rested nearby. It was no doubt cold, uncomfortable, noisy, unsanitary, and a very lonely place for a young woman to give birth for the first time. Had the couple been turned away simply because there was no room, or might they also have faced rejection due to Mary’s controversial conception or their lack of financial means?
We do know that when Jesus Christ came to this world, He would humble Himself, take on the very nature of a servant, and be made in the likeness of human beings. Eventually He would even submit His body to death on a cross so that through His shed blood He would make salvation from sin possible for all who believe in Him. (Philippians 2:6-8; Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 9:22) Even Joseph knew that the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ birth would be to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21) Mary would also have been familiar with the prophecies regarding the Messiah’s birth, so when the angel announced to her that she would be the mother of the Son of God, she humbly submitted to the will of God. (Luke1:30-38)
A manger…obscurity, loneliness, humility, submission…God’s way of providing for our salvation and future with Him. That’s what I marvel about as I lovingly handle and find special places for my manger ornaments each year.
Until next time,