Why the Manger matters

So, now we know why I, at least, think the Wise Men and the Shepherds matter in the Nativity narrative. So, what is the big deal about the Messiah being born in a manger?

The Manger is so important to the narrative. It is the marked difference between earthly kings and a Heavenly One.

What the manger shows is the sheer contempt that God has for the riches of this world. Where all other kings gather riches and comfort to themselves, almost always to the detriment of their people, the King of Kings decides to be born with no comfort beyond hay and a rough trough made out of stone. The Son of Man became the poorest of the poor, and the manger reminds us of this, for Jesus was to live through human suffering and wretchedness.

What the manger shows is that even at his birth, the Savior was not wanted by the world. Where the average baby was born in a home, surrounded by loving parents and family members eager to welcome the new child in, Jesus Christ was born with just his parents in attendance.

What the manger shows is that even in the Savior’s birth, the world despised him. Being turned away from the innkeeper, a pregnant Mary had no recourse but to give birth in this shelter for animals. Not only at his birth did the world turn their back on Jesus, but he was placed upon a rough wooden cross to die and then was buried in a borrowed tomb. The world has showed it’s contempt for the Messiah since the very beginning of his earthly life.

What the manger shows is the world does not know how to handle a Heavenly King. Everything a earthly king would have gotten when born was denied to the Son of God, and He came of His own free will to save us.

There is unimaginable beauty in the fact that a Godly King chose to be born as a baby to a virgin mother and a father who worked with his hands, creating. There is beauty that even when denied the adoration demanded of a kingly birth, nature and heaven still praised him. The lowly shepherds and the pagan wise men were the only ones who knew true deity when they saw it. They were the only ones to pay the earthly adoration demanded and were the only ones to bow before the newborn King.

Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior of all mankind, was born in a stable. He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a rough stone manger, making his bed among the animals. He came to save the world of it’s sins, and not one person opened their home to his mother, who was in need.

Would you have opened the door that night?

Take a moment and thank God for the manger your Savior was laid in. For even though God held in contempt the riches of the world, he did not hold us in that same distaste.

This is what a manger would have looked like when Jesus was born. It wouldn't be these wooden ones that are so prevalent in today's pictures of the birth. Rather it would be stone, so strong hungry animals couldn't push it over.  Not very comfy looking even filled with hay, huh?

This is what a manger would have looked like when Jesus was born. It wouldn’t be these wooden ones that are so prevalent in today’s pictures of the birth. Rather it would be stone, so strong hungry animals couldn’t push it over.
Not very comfy looking even filled with hay, huh?

Luke 2 

The Birth of Jesus

 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole empire should be registered. This first registration took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So everyone went to be registered, each to his own town.

And Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family line of David, to be registered along with Mary, who was engaged to him and was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. Then she gave birth to her firstborn Son, and she wrapped Him snugly in cloth and laid Him in a feeding trough (a manger)—because there was no room for them at the lodging place.

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Why the Shepherds matter

Last week, I mentioned the Wise Men and why I believe they are important to the Nativity narrative.

Today, I thought we would discuss why the shepherds were at the birth of the Savior.
Once more, God did not call the priests or the kings to come to the manger. Rather, he called the lowly shepherds to come and give witness to the miracle of the Messiah.

Why is that?

Shepherds were the working men of that generation.
They travelled far and wide to find good feeding grounds for their large flocks.
They held no sway in the courts, no power in the synagogues.
They may have had only minimal education, as they would not have been near a synagogue, or destined to teach in one.
Depending on how many were in charge of their flocks, many of them might have gone weeks without seeing another shepherd, as they roamed.
They were protectors of their flocks. They watched for predators and thieves, they sought out the lost sheep and worked hard to find them fresh water.
These men would have been alert to any change in their flock.
They would not allow one to straggle away, but would seek them out to bring them back into the midst of the flock. If one faltered due to an illness, they would have brought them up to their own shoulders and carried them to the place of that night’s rest.
These men would have known the exact number of sheep in their flock and would have accounted for each, numerous times during the day.

Why did God choose these men to be a the birth of His Son?

We do not know who the shepherds were that bowed before the Child. We do not know how many they numbered as that is not mentioned either.

But, we do know that an angel of the Lord came before them. “Do not be afraid, for I bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people. For this day a Savior is born in the town of David; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:9-12)”

Then they saw and heard the great host singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests. (v14)”

And these shepherds went. I highly doubt they would have left their flocks alone, as that was their livelihood. And really, could you imagine these men who just heard from angels, doing Rock/Paper/Scissors over who got left behind to tend the flock while the rest went to see the Savior? I don’t think so.

I always like to imagine that these flocks flooded the small town of Bethlehem as these shepherds hurried to the manger. It was at night, and the awe inspiring vision of angels descending from heaven was still burned into their retinas, perhaps the sheep led the shepherds that night to their Savior. Or it could just be my writer’s imagination filling in the details.

I honestly do not know what happened to the sheep, what the shepherds did when they saw the Child, or what happened to them after. They did tell the story after laying eyes on the family, and people were amazed. But, what did they say? The common man would have believed them, but would have the teachers and priests?

The shepherds matter because they would have been culturally insignificant.

God does this numerous times throughout the Bible. He chooses people with no power in the courts or temples; women, slaves, Gentiles, and ultimately the low man on the working totem pole, to tell of his glory. He chooses these people to see glorious wonders; angels, the Risen Lord, prophecies and visions. They are chosen because God is not just the God of the rich or those who are proud, rather He is for the forgotten and belittled.

God sees no distinction in the worth of a human. That is why the shepherds matter to the Nativity narrative.

He chose the common man to be the first to lay eyes upon the King of the Jews. No gifts to give, but perhaps the warmth of a flock of sheep that huddled together. They would have stepped in to that humble room, in their rough clothing, without having been primped for the encounter. They would have come as they were.

The shepherds matter because they are representations of the Jewish common man who sought the promised Messiah.

The shepherds matter because they are representation of the common person who seeks.

The average person is not going to come to God with gold and knowledge, rather with humbleness and brokenness and with nothing to give.

The Wise Men showed that God was for every human- not just the Jewish– no matter their background.

The shepherds show that even if you are not rich or learned, God is for you as well.

There was no mistake in who God chose to be there. Each person had a distinct purpose.

Those who He denied entrance to is also very important. Riches will not save you, nor will knowing all the ‘right’ answers.

The priests thought they knew when the Messiah would come and that He would come as a warrior to save them from slavery.

The Messiah came as a baby instead nestled in hay, to preach peace and forgiveness.

The priests refused to see the truth because it didn’t follow their specifications, much like churches today.

The Wise Men saw the truth in the star and believed in the prophecy. When they laid eyes on the Baby Jesus, they saw God.

King Herod was not chosen because he refused to give over power. He was fearful of any ‘King of the Jews’ rising and winning the power from him. That is why he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of little boys, echoing the Pharaoh of Egypt’s play when Moses was born. It was not done in power, but rather fear, much like the governments of today.

The shepherds did not have power, nor did they seek it, rather they saw truth in a humble home. They saw a baby in a manger who would one day be king. They saw God choosing to lay in hay, rather than sit on a throne.

They saw power wrapped in humbleness.

There is a purpose for why God chose certain people to come see His Son. For Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior of all Mankind is a shepherd as well. He seeks out all who are lost, gathering them to him. He protects them from evil and finds safe places for them to rest. When they are weary and can no longer walk on their own, Jesus puts them on his shoulders and carries them. He knows each by name and knows when one wanders away. He seeks each out.

Is it any wonder that God chose shepherds to be the first to see His Son?

Luke 2: 8-20
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 ButMary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Why the Wise Men matter

I’ve always been curious about the men who came from the East. 
Imagine the scene: an undisclosed number of men studying numerous prophecies, the stars, and other occurrences in nature.They collected bits of information for years. They knew about the prophecies of the Jewish people, even though they weren’t Jewish themselves.
Suddenly, a star is noticed to be rising in the West, and they set out to follow it.
While we don’t know exactly how far in the East they were, church tradition says that at least one might have been a black, probably Ethiopian, and perhaps another being of Asian decent. How the tradition started I’m unsure, though later on the name of Magi became known as followers of the 6th century Zoroaster, which seemed to reach beyond Persia to Asia.
Either way the important thing here is, the Magi were not Jewish. 
These men followed the prophecies of a people they were not of. 
These men traveled a long distance to bow down in front of a king they would not be ruled by. 
These men were Gentiles. 
They were not only the first Gentiles to lay eyes on the King of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world. 
The Magi were men who were astronomers, fortunetellers, magicians, and seers. 
In the Jewish culture, those who practice star study, or anything related to magic, are seen as practitioners of evil, due to the very laws that God put down for them. 

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

But, who are the very people God chooses to see the Savior of all mankind? The very people he warns his nation against.
That is why the Wise Men matter in the Nativity story.
According to Jewish culture these men should have been killed for practicing magic, instead they gave gifts to a baby who would grow up into a man who would be killed to forgive sins.
Their sins.
This is why the Wise Men matter.
These men would have traveled home to study the stars yet again, to wait for more of the prophecy to unfold. I wonder if they knew thirty three years later when Jesus was crucified. If they realized that the baby they saw in a humble home in Bethlehem, was the very one that was paraded though town being tortured and mocked.
These men though would have traveled back to their homeland, telling of the prophecy and the star. Of the virgin mother and the God-man child. They would have told of the truth seen in the stars and how they heard an angel speak to them.
What did they think when King Herod went after all the little boys? When Israel ran red with the blood of children, because of a king that feared being disposed?
Men who saw things in the stars, met the God who created them, born in the body of baby boy.
Men who practiced magic, saw miracles in a new star rising and angels warning them.
The Wise Men matter because they were the first Gentiles to see the Messiah.
The Wise Men matter because they were chosen to be in the presence of a God they do not know.
The Wise Men matter because they, rather than Jewish royalty or priests, saw the truth in a star, and followed it.
The Wise Men matter because they believed in the prophecy.
These men who came from the East have always fascinated me.
I hope you might look at them with some of that same fascination.
As a Gentile who is in love with the Savior, I’m thankful for their part in the Nativity story.
Merry Christmas!

If you would like to learn a little more about what the Myrrh, Frankincense, and Gold mean that the Magi brought to Baby Jesus, jump over to my friend’s blog where she recounts a fascinating sermon she heard: heidibay.wordpress.com 

Matthew 2 New International Version (NIV)

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with giftsof gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.



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