Feasting with God #6
Laid in a Manger
1In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7And 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 in the inn.
Nativity scenes are common around this time of year. Made of wood, ceramic, felt, or other materials, we place them on our mantles, on our coffee tables, or under our trees. Sometimes we have people dressed as the various characters in the Nativity – three wise men bearing gifts, a few shepherds with staffs and stuffed sheep, perhaps an angel or two, and Mary and Joseph with a baby doll in a manger. It is indeed a picture that says “Christmas” even better than a fat Santa Claus in a red suit. But do we really understand the significance of this baby that was born and placed in a manger for his crib?
A manger is a feeding trough. It would have been a soft bed for the Christ-child because of all the hay that rested inside it, but that hay was there for the stabled animals to eat. Parents nowadays will usually go on a shopping spree to find just the right crib for their newborn – one that’s safe, soft, and built to last. Mary and Joseph couldn’t find any good bed for this child. Perhaps Joseph, as the carpenter that he was, had been working on a crib for Mary’s soon-to-be-born son, but that would not have been part of their packing for this trip to Bethlehem. So they had to settle with what they had, and what they had was the feeding trough of barn animals.
More than anything this demonstrates the humility of God becoming man: not only did the Almighty lower himself so much to become a full human being, but he became one who was willing to sleep in the lowliest of places. But this would only be a foreshadowing of the deep humility of his that was to come. Jesus Christ was to live a complete human life, and in that time be hated by men, betrayed, arrested, tortured, and executed like a slave or a criminal. He was to do all of this purely out of love for us, so that we could be saved by believing in him.
That humility could be seen beginning here, where he slept in a manger. But there’s another way to look at that manger. It was humble, yes, but it was also the greatest gift available for Mary and Joseph – and indeed for the animals in that stable – to give to their God made flesh. What gifts are we really able to give to God, who already has everything? He has given us salvation, and what do we give in response? Only things as insignificant as a barn-animal’s feeding trough. But because these gifts are given out of love, and out of thankfulness to that God who gave us everything, our gifts are in his eyes as glorious as feasts.
Dear Father in heaven, on this Christmas Day we remember and celebrate the birth of your Son who humbled himself to become a man, to live and to die for us. Lead us to see what a great gift we have been given, and lead us to thank and praise you for it. In that thankfulness, enable us to have truly giving hearts, hearts that give to one another, and especially give to you. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.