“She gave birth to her firstborn son.
She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger . . .”
a rack for fodder, or a structure or feeder used to hold food for animals
Most of us have been exposed to the word “manger” since our earliest childhood. Sweet, old Christmas songs that are so familiar to most of us continue to be heard and sung from early December until the globally celebrated holiday is past. We see visual depictions of the “manger scene” throughout the month.
In the field behind our house, we have a small barn. In the barn we have a literal, functioning manger. It’s the key gathering spot for the sheep of our field. Every day, the sheep watch for any sign of the one who will put fresh hay into their manger. This becomes a rather desperate scene of wooly sheep noisily pushing each other to find a spot where they can grab the hay between the wide, sloping bars of their feeding trough. They all become very focused on that manger at the first sign of the human who will fill it with hay. It is not a “silent night” experience. It is not a “calm” scene. It is not a “holy” experience. It is not a sweet, peaceful moment to view.
Our “manger scene” twice every day is one of shoving, noisy baa-ing, grabbing, and frantic mouth-filling. Oh…and the sheep with the biggest head is usually already stuck between the bars, which makes her the first and last sheep in the manger everyday, waiting for the shepherd’s daily rescue.
Now picture that beautiful, sweet, peaceful Christmas manger scene of which we are all so familiar. And imagine the manger itself . . .far more rickety and inefficient from the mangers of our day. Realistically, “Peaceful” is the furthest description of that manger scene. If there was any hay in the manger, it would be challenging to keep the sheep away…sheep very likely to be ear-marked for sacrifice in the nearby Temple in Jerusalem. Then imagine a new-born baby being placed in it, on the hay. I think the immediate after-birth care that new mother needed was pressing enough to have to place the newborn baby temporarily out of her arms. But fresh hay in a manger would bring immediate attention for the sheep anywhere near that space.
Since Day 1 of Jesus’ physical presence on this earth, He was intentionally vulnerable . . . at risk . . . in danger. . . and at the mercy of a fallen human world. He came in the most vulnerable human condition: a newborn baby. He was placed in the arms of two first-time parents, frightened young human beings who had no previous experience of personally birthing a tiny infant. His first experience outside of the receiving arms of his humble new parents was a risky situation. And always-hungry animals would not have been easy to keep away from the tiniest human presence in their feeding trough.
Jesus came into our dangerous world by choice, before His first human breath. The risks only increased throughout His time on earth. He knew every moment that was to come. Yet, He came. For us. For this dangerous, troubled world. For the Cause of Redemption.
Because of Love.