Does the manger matter?

The Bible gets four shots to tell Jesus’ birth — well, four gospel writers plus Paul and the other epistle writers, so at least four. But the manger only appears in Luke. For many current-day Christians, the Christmas story would be incomplete without the manger scene: little baby Jesus wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. But does this, the crowning scene of many a church Christmas Pageant, really matter?

Well, yes and no. Does the manger matter to Matthew, Mark, or John? No, not one bit. Does the manger matter to Paul? Nope. In fact, Paul doesn’t even seem to know about the whole virgin birth story, let alone the manger — at least he never mentions it. And even for Luke, is the manger an irreplaceable aspect of the birth story that, without the manger, Jesus’ birth would lose all its meaning? I think not. But it matters; the manger matters to Luke at least.

Luke is the gospel in which stories of the poor and the outcast and women get a special airing. Luke seems to be all about those on the margins, and Luke tells the story of Jesus with that hue. So yeah, the manger matters, for it puts the scandal of Jesus, the craziness of the gospel, in a tidy (or smelly?) message.

Was little baby Jesus actually laid in a manger — I don’t know, it seems like a very strange and dirty place to put a newborn if you ask me. I’m not a parent, but I’d say Mary and Joseph would have to be crazy-tired or plain silly to put a newborn in a feeding trough. But the story of Jesus being laid in a manger speaks to the truth of the gospel. Here’s how:

For one, the manger as metaphor reminds us of Jesus as the bread of life. Jesus is both food for our spiritual journey, and food that physically nourishes us in the bread and wine of communion. Little baby Jesus in the food trough can point to big guy Jesus feeding the 5,000 and dining after the resurrection with the disciples at Emmaus.

Second, the manger scene sets up the story of Jesus as one of scandal. The son of God lies helpless in a food trough for dirty animals — scandal! What sort of God would figure that as a good idea? Only a crazy-wild-scandalous one that upends all our expectations of justice, love, and grace. Scandalous manger.

Finally, the manger scene, for me at least, sets Jesus as his own person — a poor one, yes, but his own man aside from his parents’ influence. I’m not saying Jesus’ is uninfluenced by his parents or culture, no way. But I’m picturing the birth scene as a comic strip with a final panel of an up-close baby Jesus in the manger. Mary and Joseph holding Jesus aren’t the point; Jesus himself, set apart, poor, lowly, weak, vulnerable, even smelly — Jesus is the focal point of the story, so he hangs out by himself in the manger.

But that’s just me. What do you think? Could you do Christmas without little baby Jesus in a food trough? Sure, leaving it out would ruin the pageant, but does the manger really matter to you?

Originally posted at A Wee Blether.

Join the Conversation

Comments

signs

Signs of Jesus Birth

I'll keep this as brief as I can, because there are so many others I enjoy reading more than my own writing.

Elder Mark Richards preached recently on "Easter" and "Christmas"
Rather the Death of Jesus, and for there to be a death, there was of necessity, a birth.

One Statement he made was about signs.
"If I give you directions to my house by saying 'Go on the freeway, and when you see a sign, turn right" Those are pretty vague directions, and you might miss the particular sign referenced.

He explained that "virgin" and the name "Jesus" was named were pretty specific "signs" signs:
Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel

Matthew 1:23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,
which being interpreted is, God with us.

Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.

I'll not write his entire sermon here, but obviously some missed those "signs" as ...

Luke 7:19 And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? ... 22 Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see,...

Matthew 11:3 And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? 4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: ...

I'm writing this, just to show a few more "signs" and to illustrate a connection between "The Last Supper" and the Birth.

Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 2:5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet,

I once wondered why "Bethlehem," (BETH meaning "HOUSE" and LEHEM meaning BREAD. (Baking was the chief industry, wheat was grown in the area, hence the name for the city)

John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.

John 6:38 For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.
John 6:41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, I am the bread which came down from heaven.
John 6:51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
John 6:58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

Manna?

Exodus 16:15 And when the children of Israel saw it, they said one to another, It is manna: for they wist not what it was. And Moses said unto them, This is the bread which the LORD hath given you to eat.

Where was Jesus placed after birth, was there a sign?

Luke 2:12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

A Manger is not a barn, not a shed. A manger is a crib, not a baby crib, or corn crib, but in today's farming language what one would call a horse trough or feeding trough. Now when food is placed in the livestock's feeding trough, the flock comes to it and feeds from it.

So, Way prior to Jesus breaking bread and saying "this is my body, take and eat" there was a pretty specific sign.

Matthew 26:26 And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
Mark 14:22 And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body.
1 Corinthians 11:24 And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

Well wait, I wasn't intending to sidetrack into "Communion" as it relates to "THE birth" and veer off into only the intended flock partaking this manna/Bread of Life. But Jesus didn't just begin "feeding His flock/sheep" at the last supper, but from before His birth, and symbolized by signs AT his birth.

Do we look for another? I think not. Very specific signs exist

Lots of poorer people had

Lots of poorer people had mangers in their houses at the time. The "Inn" (Kataluma) is not translated well. Probably was a spare room or some kind of travelers gathering place. They might have been taken into a poor home. Who knows? But the manger is a great symbol for people who are among the poorest and most powerless. Wherever Jesus was born, it was among these people.

I think the manger story is

I think the manger story is very important for all the reasons mentioned above, but also it is a welcoming place for all the parties who take part, including the smelly shepherds (a very outcast crowd). What is also in this story is that when "ALL" heard the story of angels from the shepherds, they were amazed. Let's face it Mary and Joseph were not alone humans in the overcrowded city of David that night...without Expedia or Orbis, there were a lot of folks clamoring for a place to lay their heads. Oh but one character not in any of the stories that often gets overlooked is the donkey taking Mary to Bethlehem....the family probably traveled with the rest of the relatives required to make census in a caravan....so this was the first family gathering at Christmas.

Join the Conversation via Facebook

To post a comment, log inregister, or use the Facebook comment box.