And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And 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.
- Luke 2:6 – 7
The simple message of Christmas is not that God picked a baby to save the world but that God humbly entered the world as a baby to save us. In John 1 we are told this about Jesus: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, the God who flung planets into existence and hung the stars in their place made himself small and came down as a baby. And here is the part that is almost too strange to be true, God spent his first night on our peculiar planet in a manger.
What a strange collection of words. God in a manger. You see, mangers are feeding bowls for animals and as such they are filled with food dampened by the filth of animal sweat and saliva. They are crawling with germs and barnyard bacteria. They are rough, earthy, smelly and unsafe for babies.
Now keep in mind that God could have entered our world any way he wanted. He could have entered into the safety of a well-furnished inn with servants rushing about tending to his every need. He could have come with pomp and circumstance in a great military parade. All of which is to say, he could have found something comfier, safer, and more sanitary. And yet what did God choose for his first night with us? He chose a manger.
So the question has to be asked: What is God doing in a manger?
The answer is breathtaking: He is identifying with us.
In Hebrews 2:17 we are told that Jesus had to be made like us in every respect. In other words, he had to experience the harsh realities of this life. He had to suffer as we suffer. And it seems from Jesus’ first night that God is intent on facing all the harshness that this world has to offer.
So Jesus set aside the riches of heaven to be born on a dirt floor in the presence of a wearied mom and a bewildered dad. And then he was placed not in a comfortable crib with a warm blanket. Instead, he was placed in a rough, cold, germ filled-manger.
Why? Because life on this sin stained planet isn’t comfy or particularly safe. It is often cold, harsh, fragile and, at times, a bit dangerous. Shakespeare captured the essence of life on this planet with these words: each new morn new widows howl, new orphans cry, and new sorrows strike heaven on the face.
Yes, there are days when we don’t face realities like poverty, disease, sickness, and death. Yes, there are good moments when we seem to soar above selfishness and sin. But still there are moments when tragedy hits. When sin knocks at our door. When a loved one gets sick. And we are reminded that life is more like a manger than a comfy crib.
So how do we keep our heads when faced with the harsh realities of this life? We go back to the manger and we remember that this newborn baby in the filthy feeding bowl is God With Us.
And in the manger God With Us is communicating something significant to us: I understand your problems and your pain. I know what it’s like to be unsafe. I, too, have experienced the harshness of life. I’ve known all about sorrows that strike heaven on the face. And I’ve come to save you.
So what did Jesus do? He not only laid himself in a rough, unsafe wooden manger. He also spent 33 years facing all the harshness that this world has to offer. So he was poor. He had no place to lay his head. He was misunderstood and mistreated. He was abandoned by his family. He was betrayed by his friends. He was abused by his enemies. And then he laid himself down once more on another rough, unsafe piece of wood. But this time not in birth but in death.
You see, the manger points to the cross. For Jesus was born to die and in his death to save us from all the problems that pervade our planet.
So today spend some time considering the harsh realities you face. What in your life makes you feel unsafe? What do you need to be rescued from this Christmas? What tragedies have you experienced this last year?
Now go back to the manger and look again at the newborn baby lying there. God in a filthy feeding bowl. God lying in an unsafe place. God With Us. God for us.
Now listen to God’s message from the manger: I understand your problems. I’ve experienced your pain. I know what it’s like to feel unsafe. And I’ve come to save you.
What a great message for us to hear!