Most nativity scenes we see around our communities, are incorrect, not only because they depict wise men but mainly because they are always neat and pure looking. We want to depict it as heavenly. That way we can keep God at a distance. 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 and you certainly couldn’t describe it as heavenly.
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 didn’t live there and their wives didn’t give birth in such places, even though shepherds were treated as outcasts because they were poorest of the poor.
Jesus was not born in a manger because there was no room in the inn. 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. 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, but 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. 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. We only become clean when Jesus comes into our hearts with forgiveness, mercy and grace.
So what can we learn from the manger?
1. We learn Christ’s humanity – the angel said “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. A baby, a human. He came into the world just as each of us do. He had been a fetus, sleeping in his mother’s womb. He had two eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys and a spleen. Yes, His conception was a miracle but His physical birth was normal as it could be given the circumstances.
Christ being born as a baby brings us face to face with the truth of the incarnation. He was fully and truly God but took on true humanity when He was conceived in Mary’s womb and born in Bethlehem. He was not half God and half man, but fully God and fully man. God entered human history in order to provide for our salvation. What we could not do, He did for us through His son. If He had not been born, He could not have died for our sins nor risen from the dead. He had to become like us in order to save us. So God chose to send Him as a baby.
2. A baby is helpless when they are first born. From the manger we learn about His helplessness – being wrapped in swaddling cloths. When Jesus was born, newborn babies were wrapped in strips of cloth to protect them from the harsh elements. Usually mothers would wrap the arms and legs separately, then wrap the torso until the baby looked something like an Egyptian mummy. As a mother, this seems a little cruel. There was very little medical care then and babies routinely died before their first birthday so the mothers were doing all they knew to do to provide protection for their child.
His being bound in swaddling clothes, reminds us when years later, He would stand before the Jewish authorities, bound and guarded as if He were a common criminal. It is no coincidence that He entered the world as He left it – bound and helpless.
He was bound that we might be set free. But Christmas is not about the Savior’s infancy; it is about His deity.
3. We learn about His humility – Lying in a manger. We can’t really fathom what it means for God to be born in a manger. I have already emphasized how cold, dark and dirty the manger was. But is there perhaps a hint of His upcoming death to be found here. I think so. Even in the feeding trough, He was bearing the only cross a baby can bear – extreme poverty and the contempt and indifference of mankind.
There was nothing superhuman about Him. If you and I had been there we would not have taken notice of it, just concluded this was a baby born to a poor young couple down on their luck.
Not a very likely beginning for a movement that would change the world. But because He was born in a manger, He was humble and accessible. When He died He was buried in a borrowed grave, a cave similar to the one where He was born. He was always accessible. Had He been born in a castle He would have been an exclusive savior. But the manger birth made Him savior to everyone.
Part of Christmas involves giving gifts. Big gifts often come in small packages. Jesus, coming as a baby, would be considered a small package. Looking at the birth of Jesus, God went to great lengths to make sure this gift to the world looked small. But the gift of this small baby made a big point: God is capable of more than we can imagine and can make the best out of any situation.
A small gift can become a big gift because of its meaning; because of a need and because it’s free.
A small gift, does not mean a cheap gift, as it cost Christ everything.
We are all invited to the manger.
So what will you bring to the manger. The circle around it is wide, infinite. Will you bring riches, your glad, full and joyous hearts like the shepherds? Will you take your brokenness, or sadness, your failures and let Jesus hold them in His hands? The circle around the manger is where sins are forgiven and life starts over again. But what if you have none of this to bring? You can simply come as you are. You can worship. From the manger we can take the message of God’s love to all whose hearts need to know the message that will crack their sinful hearts. God accepts everyone from a shepherd to a wise man and He doesn’t care about our merits or achievements. He doesn’t need our help, but He does want our heart. Won’t you come to the manger? (NOTE: Condensed from a God-given sermon with same title I delivered a couple of years ago.)©2017
VICTORIA SIMMONS is an author, columnist, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org