A Why in a Manger

Reading: Luke 2.1-20

Christmas is the time of celebrations, the time for sending greetings, the time for homecomings, the time for holidays, the time for singing the old carols...

And yes, the carols have been piped as a gentle background in the shops to remind us it is that season again – and we had better spend up big! All this is mixed in with Santa – who this year advises us to buy from this electrical store or tells us to buy that gift... It’s so easy to miss Jesus. Yet Jesus is the centre of Christmas. It’s his birth we are meant to be celebrating.

We have just been singing one of the old favourites again this morning –

A  why  in a manger, no crib for a bed,

the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;

the stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay,

the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay.

Oh, did I get that wrong? You thought the words were “Away in a manger,” did you? Yes, they are, but I would like us all this morning to think about “A Why in a Manger.”

A Baby in a Manger

You see, we know the story – about the Baby who was born, about how he was put in a feed-box because the inn was too full, about the angels who sang and the humble shepherds who came, a star that shone and wise men who travelled from afar to offer their choicest gifts... And yet –

While the life of the world pauses for another celebration, thinking people may well ask, “What’s the connection between Christmas and how we live for the rest of the year?”

At this season, if we can stop and reflect for a moment, we are brought face-to-face, not with some sentimental story of long ago, but with a very serious and important question – with “a WHY in a manger!”

A Why in a Manger

The story of the Baby in the manger has become so appealing to us that we miss altogether what it must have meant for those involved.

Since when was a stable a nice place to have a baby? Sounds more like a modern refugee camp! But this wasn’t a refugee situation – just an overcrowded town! He was laid in the manger because “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2.7).

Of course, our songwriter – did you notice? – seems to suggest it wasn’t a stable anyway! “The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay”. The inns of that time were designed in an open square – rooms round the outside were open to the centre where the animals were kept – under the stars.

Perhaps we don’t feel so badly about it because it was other people long ago – not us! We would have been more considerate! We would have found a better place!

Yet when Jesus pictured the last judgment, he said the King would say to those being sent away, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me... Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25.42,43,45).

Our choices aren’t really so very different from the ones that faced the people of Bethlehem. Looking at it honestly in that way, how many of us feel that we will come out on top? True, we give a token thought to others from time to time, yet isn’t it true that much of the time we are thinking only of ourselves?

So the Baby in the manger raises a real question about the sort of people we are. The Christmas story shows us up for what we are – selfish and self-centred. Back then, it wasn’t a question of not having room for the Son of God –they didn’t know who this Baby was. But when his identity became clear, they had him nailed to a cross!

And what about our celebration of Christmas? Are we less self-centred? and do we have more room for Jesus the Son of God?

Why the manger? One answer lies in us, in the sort of people we are!

God’s Why in a Manger

But there’s another side to the manger story because God was there and his purpose was in it, too!

Listen to what the angel said to Joseph – “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21). And to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2.11-12).

Where would you expect to find a baby? Certainly not in a feed-box! So it’s rather striking, isn’t it? The sign or proof that God has done something – that God has sent the Saviour – isn’t what the old Bible called the “swaddling clothes” (that was normal Jewish practice), but a baby lying, not in a cot, but in a feed-box!

And this is true about Good Friday too. Where would you expect to find God’s promised King? On a throne, not on a cross! At the very point where we were showing the extent of our rebelliousness and rejection and sin, God came with his love “to save his people from their sins.”

So why the manger? We have two answers – one has to do with us and human sinfulness (in which we all share), and the other has to do with God and his love coming into human history to do something about the very sinfulness that could find no better place for a baby than a feed-box! The very sinfulness that would try to say a final “no” to God by nailing Jesus to a cross!

So Let’s Celebrate!

So let’s prepare to celebrate the birth of this Jesus, the Babe in the manger, the Saviour who died on the cross, the Lord who lives! For it is “that time” again! How are we going to celebrate it this year?

Let’s celebrate it with understanding. Be sure to grasp clearly why this Babe was born and laid in a manger. Look at ourselves and how we act. Think about God’s love and his gift to us.

Let’s celebrate it with faith. Children often know better than adults what to do with a gift. They don’t get “wrapped up” in the wrappings! They accept the gift, depend that it is for them and take it as part of their lives! And that’s what we should do with God’s gift. Baby Jesus was laid in a manger because we human beings are so sinful and self-centred we could do no better than that. But he came for us – to live and die for us, to live again for us – because God loves us and wants to forgive us and promises a whole new way of life. Accept God’s gift. Depend that it is for you. Take it as part of your life.

Then let’s all allow God’s Gift to be seen in and through us throughout the rest of the year!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Mareeba, Christmas Day 25 December 2008
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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