(Luke 2:7) “And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Most nativity scenes today are inaccurate in the first place. By the time the wise men arrived in Bethlehem, Jesus would have been about two years old. That’s why Herod decreed to have all infants two and under killed. So there were no wise men on the day Jesus was born.
We tend to try and glamorize the nativity . We want it to seem clean pure, neat and want it to be heavenly. That allows us to keep God at a distance. But in doing so, we fail to see the whole picture of Christ’s birth. We want to water it down, make it better than it was and in doing so we diminish Christ.
They had ridden a long way and it was time. The long ride had probably hastened the birth. Can you imagine a teenager today riding all that way without complaining the whole time or asking how much longer? There was no complaining from either Mary or Joseph. They trusted God completely. We all should have faith like Mary and Joseph.
She was still a teenager when the angel appeared to her and told her she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit. She was already engaged to Joseph, If she told him and his family they could become outraged and cancel the marriage. She could even be stoned or ostracized by her own family. Instead of saying “no way”, she said, “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”
Joseph, too, had such faith. Otherwise he would not have married Mary. It wasn’t that he didn’t think about it, but an angel appeared to him as well and explained it. From that point on, Joseph had great faith on the matter too.
There was no room for them in the nice, comfortable inn and the innkeeper turned them away. Here was a woman going into labor and there was no compassion from the innkeeper. Had Joseph been rich, you can be sure he could have bought his way into a comfortable birth place. But no, man then as today, lacked compassion for fellow men and money talked.
We don’t want to imagine anything at all like a real manger the night Jesus was born. It wasn’t comfortable, clean, warm or brightly lit.
Not the birthing place most mothers envision. A manger is a place where they feed animals. Shepherds often took shelter out in the fields, in a stable, usually a cave which would keep off the rain and wind. But they don’t live there and their wives don’t give birth in such places, even though shepherds were treated as outcasts because they were the poorest of the poor.
But the truth is, Jesus was not born in a manger because there was no room in the inn. It wasn’t an accident that the inn was full. Every detail of Jesus birth had been planned.
Even the manger. A manger is cold; a damp cold that chills you right to your bones. Probably made of stone or wood. The only heat would be from the body heat of the animals when they came in to feed and when they breathed.
Not only is it cold, but a manger is dark and most of all a manger is just dirty. Full of mud, manure, dust and cobwebs and it smells like must and mold. As the animals eat the feed they slobber and drool. In the summer there are flies and other insects so there is no such thing as a clean or even hygienic manger. So, the fact of the matter is Jesus was born in a place that was cold, dark and dirty.
When we realize the truth of a manger, we might ask why then would our savior be born in such a place. Really, every time Jesus comes into our lives, he is born in a manger because the human heart is much like the manger before Christ, cold, dark and dirty. It only changes when we come to know God and His love and He shines the light of salvation into our lives. He chooses to come into hearts which are like that. Now that’s a miracle.
But Christ’s birth had to be lowly. If He had been born in a mansion or great estate, he would have been an exclusive Savior, only for the elite. But His birthplace made Him inclusive to all people and more readily accepted. You see God doesn’t hesitate to enter places which some of us would find unacceptable. It was a humble birth. Coming from royalty from a throne, he was born in a lowly manger without his royal clothing but in swaddling clothes.
Angels even mention the swaddling clothes and we tend to overlook it, or dismiss its importance. Swaddling clothes were made from strips of cloths; some say it foreshadows Jesus’ burial cloths. Being wrapped in swaddling clothes was not comfortable. They were binding. They restricted movement. Back then there was very little medical help and mothers did everything they could to protect their babies and one way was to wrap them in swaddling cloth.
God didn’t even clean up the world before Jesus came. He knew we needed a savior and so He sent His son as one of us. Not a superhuman personification of a human being, but an ordinary human being like you or me or the folks down the street — a tiny, sweet baby.
A part of Christmas involves giving gifts. Big gifts often come in small packages. Jesus, coming as a baby, would be considered a small package. In fact, looking at the birth of Jesus, I conclude God went to great lengths to make sure this gift to the world looked small. Consider Bethlehem, not a very big city. The manger, the baby. But the gift of this small baby made a big point: God is capable of more than we can imagine and God can make the best out of any situation no matter how bleak. He accepts us just as we are, baggage and all, and His love is unconditional.
Merry Christmas to you all. Remember Christ is the reason for the season.©2016
NOTE: This was in part condensed from my sermon on Lessons from the manger. If you would like the whole script please contact me.
VICTORIA SIMMONS is an author, columnist, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org