Christ In The Manger
1. "But, while they were in Bethlehem, Mary came to full term, gave birth to her first born son, and had him sleep wrapped in cloth in a feeding trough because there was no room for them to stay in the inns," (Luke 2:6-7). For the most part in the scriptures this is not a passage that has been glorified insofar as its setting. In the church dinners after worship the children perform a pageant. The scene of the birth of the son is acted out as a cute and charming one. During this season of the year, in many different places, or on Christmas cards, we find pictures of a stable in which the Son was born. Everyone, no matter who, designs it beautifully. The sweet pageants and the beautiful pictures surely do carry much significance in them. But, we should not forget it never was a beautiful place. Rather, the scriptures plainly tell us of the [lowly and harsh and actually] miserable conditions there were. It says, "Mary came to full term, gave birth to her first born son, and had him sleep wrapped in cloth in a feeding trough."
The Miserable Delivery
2. We have here one little boy born in a most unpleasant, even misfortunate manner. From the time he was born we have here a poor boy who was exposed to endangerment of his life. Was it the child's fault? A person has no say so in who their parents will be, or where they are born, or how they are born. Then, were his parents at fault? Were they bad people? I'm sure his parents were unable to secure a safe place of delivery. It was beyond their powers to do so; they were totally in a bind. They probably did all they could for their coming baby and for themselves. Who in their right mind would want to have their new born sleep in a manger for feeding animals? No matter how much a person tried he or she could never do it. No matter how much a parent would like to do for his or her child, they could not do that.
3. So, were the people at fault for not letting them stay in their inns? They might have been a bit calloused in their hearts towards the pregnant young lady. If they shared their places with them even a little at a time, it would not have been impossible to make room to let one small family spend one night at a time. But, that was impossible. Because everyone was hard at it trying to make it themselves. At that time, an imperial order came out from Caesar Augustus to the citizens of every region that they had to go register. The details to this citizen registration are unclear, but it is believed to have been a registration for taxation. A fresh burden must have landed down heavily upon their every day lives. By compulsion of law, everyone had to set out on a trip back to their own hometowns because of this registration. Within this context, how can anyone find fault with them for not being able to show this family some sympathy? In saying "there was no place for them to stay in the inns," these words were not blaming anyone but seem to symbolize the different sorry conditions which could only be described as "It was impossible to do" as long as they live in this old world.
4. Within such a world as this a miserable delivery of a child into society was made. In the Bible it does not say that this was an animal stable. But, since there was a feeding trough, someway or another, it was believed to have been a place like that. For lack of a clearer understanding, we keep calling it an animal stable. Whatever it was, it wasn't a place fit for delivering babies. Mary was forced to give birth to her child in a place where the things needed to take care of them were not in the least ready. If you try to understand this with common sense, I don't think you could imagine Mary there with a beautiful face with a look full of tenderness looking at Jesus. The figure of Mary kneeling with her hands clasped and a golden circle shinning over her head is very unrealistic. Much rather, I don't think we [are to] imagine there anything else but the figures of a man and a woman barely providing safety and having their baby sleep in a manger, dead tired from fatigue and mental strain and frayed to the edges.
5. This is the birth of Jesus that the Bible tells us about. But, often times, in the pictures that we have made of this scene the figures of angles soaring above and the figures of angels singing round about are usually depicted. The infant Jesus is always radiating with light himself or the area around him is aglow. It is drawn as if a heavenly and special event were taking place. It looks like the stable disappeared by the miraculous power of God. I understand this sentiment, but I doubt we should depict this scene in such a way. I am saying all this because the Bible does not go so far as to put angels at this point.
6. Please read the narrative concerning the nativity in The Gospel According To Luke. Generally speaking, angels do appear. Miraculous things do happen. And in this setting praise resounds. It even seems to have a dash of overdramatization. Angels do appear in the passage right after [the one we read] today. What's more, a great army of angels is included and they sing "Glory to the Highest, glory to God, peace on earth and to him who pleases God," (verse fourteen). Isn't it magnificent? But, in a scene where we want the angels to appear most of all, at the birth of the son, they do not appear. There is no praise resounding in the place we'd want to have it. The Bible just speaks plainly, "Mary came to full term, gave birth to her first born son, and had him sleep wrapped in cloth in a feeding trough."
The Sign Of The Messiah
7. Please look further at verses ten and following. The angels said this to the shepherds, "Don't be afraid. We announce great joy, which is given to all peoples. Today, in the city of David, a savior has been born for you. This very one is the Lord Messiah. You will find a nursing child wrapped in cloth sleeping in a feeding trough. This is the sign for you," (vv. ten through twelve). In other words, if we ask what is the sign of the messiah, it would not be that something special happens. It is not that mysterious miracles happen. Rather, it is that "they do not happen." It says that "the sign" is that a baby delivered in an unclean place under wretched conditions would be sleeping there as a pitiable figure in the world.
8. When it comes to the messiah, even a baby one, we want it to have a special existence not belonging to this world, but different from the humanity in it. For that very reason, everyone wishes to set this scene up in a special way. Isn't it for that very reason that we want to illustrate the nursing child with a halo shinning forth? Don't we want to paint a picture that is only of the messiah and where the stable disappears as a hut for animals?
9. But, the Bible only tells us through the mouth of the angels that "You will find a nursing child asleep in a feeding trough wrapped in cloth. This is the sign for you." Of course, the Bible tells of numerous miracles that Christ did later. It speaks of his divine power. Also, it tells us of the resurrection after the cross. It tells us of his glorious form. But, notwithstanding that, no, it is for that very reason the Bible states before that first that this very infant led to sleep in a manger wrapped in cloth was none other than the messiah. In that spot it tells us the very baby, unable to do anything, without a special place, is the very messiah.
10. It means that the messiah becomes completely one element with this dark scene. It is about how that he is a real person in a dark world as this scene depicts it. Yes, in this we have the message of Christmas. The messiah does not have a separate and special being apart from this world, but became one right with the world. This world is the kind of place where a poor couple is forced to bear a child in a place where there are cattle. It's a world where peoples' hearts are forced not to show sympathy for a small family like this one. And it is also a world where a person completely without sin ends up crucified by an illegal trial. Is the picture of the world the Bible gives too extreme? No, I don't think it is at all. Even now, through out the world over, the same stuff is happening. And more or less, we all experience this same kind of world in a way all too familiar to us. We experience having to cry out unavoidably, "Why does a thing like this happen?" We can't help but admit how this world is truly like a sewer stagnant with the sins of all humankind. But, the messiah became a person into this very kind of world. That is what the Bible is telling us. To put it another way, it means that God came right into such a world. It means that God has not withdrawn his hand from this world. God did not throw the world out.
11. This message has great significance for us. Because we often want to throw out the world. Because we want to get rid of our daily experiences with the real world, a reality that has not yet reached the limits of its absurdities. We'd like to escape from that. And, actually, in many ways we do test different ways of escaping. Some run to pleasures to make them forget the heavy load of everyday living. They don't care if it is immoral, or dangerous, or if it might hurt them or even hurt someone else and bring someone else pain. All they want to do is be able to get away from their painful reality. Some lay their hands on alcohol or dangerous drugs. While intoxicated or high, at least they disconnect from their worldly responsibilities. They can disappear from living in this world, at least, as far as their conscience goes.
12. Religious intoxication and fervor is often similar to that when sought after as a way to escape. We seek in religion a different world from the ordinary one. Some run to cults. They like them no matter the danger. The main thing is that it's all right if they can get away from the humdrum of day to day life. Some like it fine as long as they can get away from all the different difficulties in interpersonal relationships and will intermingle with like minded people who have gone off into the world of sexual fantasy. As long as they share hearts that are different hearts from the workaday world, that's all they want. Now, even in our church life the same thing is possible. It can happen that Christianity, the church are only taken as flight paths from this world. Thus, when folks encounter distress they seek another place of escape.
13. Therefore, today we must turn our attention on to where the messiah is. "Mary came to full term, gave birth to her first born son, and had him sleep wrapped in cloth in a feeding trough." This child was right there as a person living in the midst of the real world. This child was surely laid to sleep right beside a man and a woman under the absurd authority of the world and worn out from being in the box of the world. God has not abandoned this world. God has not run away from the world. Christmas is not a day God departs from this world casting it off as worthless and builds another one. It is a day God affirms this world as worthy of value and shows that he accepts it. Therefore, he sent his son to redeem this world from sin. "God loved the world so much he gave his only son," (John 3:16).
14. Because God did not run away from the world, we ought not to. Regardless of how much suffering and sighing it is filled with, we are not to run from the day to day life upon this earth that we are given. Now, once again, we should direct our attention to that scene. It is a stable for animals. It is a stable where we find an exhausted man and woman. There's no need to set angels into the scene. There's no need to dramatize it as if a bright scene. We want to courageously direct our attention to the scene just the way it really is. We will discover there in it a baby laid to sleep in a feeding trough wrapped in cloth. That's how it was. The messiah was certainly there. The workings of God certainly began right there. And with our eyes right there, we will see this world. We will see our lives. This is a world that God loved and sent his son into. [This] is the world for which God let his son be crucified. The reason God sent Christ into the world was not so that we would be separated from the world and live with God, but so that we would live courageously with God in this world, [right here] in the midst of this world.