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
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.