The Marvel & Meaning of the Manger |DR. R. CLIFFORD JONES
What do you think about when you think of Christmas? Frost and snow? Carols being sung on street corners? Holly-decked churches and homes aglow with color and gaiety? Feasting and revelry? Greetings cards stressing themes of love, goodwill, happiness, and cheer?
Christmas evokes a medley of warm and sublime images. The gospel writers, however, portray the events and images surrounding the birth of Jesus as anything but festive. On the contrary, their depiction of the manger, the shepherds, the angels in the sky, the star, and the three visitors triggered surprise, fear, and foreboding.
Luke says that after Mary gave birth, she wrapped Jesus “in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). The creator of the universe was laid in a manger amidst cattle and hay. What a surprise! That Jesus was born in a manger underscores our Lord’s humility (Phil. 2:6-8). The greatness of Christ was the greatness of descent.
I’ve been blessed to witness the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace in London. The event is one of much pomp and pageantry. In stark contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants, save some animals. True, the sky grew luminous with angels, but who beheld the scene? Illiterate shepherds who were watching the flocks of others. In other words, a bunch of nobodies.
The manger speaks of the underdog status of Jesus while he was on earth. Jesus was born to an unwed teenager who was forced to seek shelter while traveling to meet the heavy, oppressive taxation demands of a colonial government. Later, Jesus would become a refugee who grew up speaking a crude language. Illegitimate and poor, Jesus was misunderstood by even his own family members.
The lesson of the manger is that we cannot stand before it and be proud. We cannot look at the Babe in the manger and think of our goodness, our might, our strength, our success, our beauty, or our intellect. At the manger, God shows us what He thinks of human pride and ambition. At the manger, God reveals what He thinks of people who become upset when others don’t praise them, people who believe they have failed if they have not been exalted. The falsehood of flattery and the untruth of conceit are dealt deadly blows at the manger.
If the manger deals a death blow to pride and haughtiness, it shows that we serve an accessible, approachable God. We can come to God. Ever since that unforgettable night when Mary brought forth Jesus, people have come to the manger in adoration and devotion. Theologians have come to reflect on the incarnation. Royalty has come with tangible and material offerings. And yes, the humble have come, like those lowly shepherds.
The manger is a miracle that should cause us to marvel. Jesus is Emmanuel—God with us. God is still powerful and holy, and God must still be worshipped with reverence and awe. Yet God is approachable. “O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Jesus Christ the Lord.”
May this holiday season be festive and joyous for you and your loved ones.
R. Clifford Jones