Encouragement for your daily walk with God
When I host trips to Israel, guests like to stop at olive wood shops to buy a souvenir or two, something made from olive wood to remind them of their pilgrimage. In every shop you’ll find carvings of the first Christmas complete with animals, shepherds, wisemen, Mary, Joseph, and, of course, baby Jesus in the manger. You can get them in any size you want, from 1 inch to life size. I saw one life size set in Bethlehem that was beautifully carved. I wondered about having it shipped home until I looked at the price tag — $55,000 — so much for that idea!
At Christmas time, we often sing about Jesus being in a manger. Some think of it as a barn or some other enclosure, like a stall or cave. But technically, a manger is a feeding trough for animals. Mangers were most commonly made of stone. I don’t want to mess with your impression of the first Christmas, but most likely, Jesus was born in a cave or stall somewhere in Bethlehem, and laid in a stone trough.
Having an accurate assessment of the Nativity isn’t the most important thing. Understanding why the Nativity, is. Let me ask it this way: Why a stall? Or, why a manger? Wouldn’t God have been better served had Jesus been born in a palace and heralded by the Jerusalem Post?
I think I can answer that question with two words: HUMILITY and ACCESSIBILITY.
Humility - Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes, gift wrapped, if you will. That’s how peasants kept their little ones warm. But it wasn’t just humble clothing; the Creator of all things came as one of His created things, a human being. How humbling for almighty God. The more I think about it, the more staggering it becomes. It shouldn’t surprise us, though. Humility would depict Christ’s life and ministry from beginning to end.
Accessibility - Going to a throne to visit a king could be intimidating, that is, if you were fortunate enough to have an audience with him, to approach him. So let’s be honest here, there is nothing intimidating about approaching a stall or feeding trough. You don’t need special credentials, in fact, you don’t need an invitation or appointment to go to a trough. Look at the shepherds on that first Christmas. They just went in.
Accessibility was a mark of Christ’s life and ministry as well. He welcomed children [Matthew 19.14]; a woman with an incurable disease [Luke 8.43-48]; and so many others.
Words from the old hymn, Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, say it well:
Infant holy, infant lowly,
for his bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing,
Christ the babe is Lord of all.
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Luke 2.15-16