Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Out of the Manger


Luke 2:4-14 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. (5) He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. (6) While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, (7) 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. (8) And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. (9) An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. (10) But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. (11) Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. (12) This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." (13) Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, (14) "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."


The Romans ruled the civilized world at this time. By contrast, Joseph controlled very little. Against his better judgment and political convictions, he complied with the Roman order to make a long trip just to pay his taxes. His fiancée, who had to go with him, was about to give birth.

The Romans were in control insofar as human authority can get its way by exerting human power. But the Romans did not recognize their limitations. In reality, God controls the world. In all times and places, he works his will. By the decree of Emperor Augustus, Jesus was born in the very town prophesied for his birth (Micah 5:2), even though his parents did not live there. Joseph and Mary were both descendants of David. The Old Testament is filled with prophecies that the Messiah would be born in David's royal line (see, for example, Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 33:15; Ezekiel 37:24; Hosea 3:5). Rome made the decree, just as God intended.

Strips of cloth were used to keep a baby warm and give him a sense of security. These cloths were believed to protect his internal organs. The custom of wrapping infants this way is still practiced in many Mid-eastern countries.

This mention of the manger is the basis for the traditional belief that Jesus was born in a stable. Stables were often caves with feeding troughs (mangers) carved into the rock walls. Despite popular Christmas card pictures, the surroundings were dark and dirty. This was not the atmosphere the Jews expected as the birthplace of the Messiah-King. They thought their promised Messiah would be born in royal surroundings. We should not limit God by our expectations. He is at work wherever he is needed in our sin-darkened and dirty world.

Although our first picture of Jesus is as a baby in a manger, it must not be our last. The Christ child in the manger is the subject of a beautiful Christmas scene, but we must not leave him there. This tiny, helpless baby lived an amazing life, died for us, ascended to heaven, and will return to earth as King of kings. Christ will rule the world and judge all people according to their decisions about him. Do you still picture Jesus as a baby in a manger-or is he your Lord? Make sure you don't underestimate Jesus. Let him grow up in your life.


The art, music, and pageantry of Christmas focus on the "little town of Bethlehem" and the baby asleep in a manger. What mother can't close her eyes and recall her own child asleep in the crib? We delight in these precious expressions of the coming of Jesus into the world.

But we can't let a baby in a manger be the only part of our understanding of Christ. We don't bow in homage to a sleeping child. We have a living, vital relationship with the crucified, risen, glorified Christ!

First Samuel 7 tells us how the ark of the covenant, the very symbol of God's presence and power, had long languished in a remote village (v.2). The nation of Israel had not revered the Almighty God in a long time. He was shelved, forgotten.

How could they do such a thing? Yet many of us show the same memory lapse. Do we think of Jesus only at Christmastime? Do our only thoughts of the King of all creation picture Him as a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Then we're still missing the true message of Christmas!

We can't keep Jesus in a nativity scene. He longs for a living, dynamic relationship with us. Just as Israel brought the ark out of obscurity and into everyday life, so let us bring Christ out of the cradle and into our lives.


"Lord, I am so thankful that You were born to this world. The Word became FLESH and dwelt among us. Because You did that, you are "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" and you left a great example for us to follow. During this Christmas season, help me to make sure that I don't keep you in the manger, because you long for a dynamic relationship with me. I choose today to bring you into every area of my life. I am so thankful that you got out of the manger, lived a sinless life, died for my sins, rose from the dead, ascended to the Father, and promised that You were coming back for us. My heart is filled with thanksgiving, peace, and hope as I celebrate Your birth, and allow Your life to be seen through my every day decisions and choices. In Jesus' name! Amen!"