A manger is defined as an animal feeding trough. It is what the hay goes in. The cow or horse will stick its head into the box and use it’s lips, gums, and tongue to maneuver the straw into it’s mouth. In addition to eating, these mammals will scratch up against the corners to cure a good itch as well as sneeze and cough into the eating area while consuming food.
In short, a manger contains animal hair, germs, mucus, saliva, some blood and any remnants of feed that fell back out of the animals mouth. oh… and bugs along with whatever bugs do (molt, lose wings and legs, leave waste, etc). I asked Lysol and they said they couldn’t do much to disinfect the manger that Jesus laid in… they didn’t come to be until almost 1900 years after Jesus was born.
I see two problems with how we view our Savior. First, we don’t view Him accurately in the manger. And second, we don’t view Him properly on the cross.
We try. Especially on the cross. We have some bloody and gory movie depictions of what He must have gone through. And it’s difficult to watch. But in our day to day, I think we lean toward miracle Jesus. He is the man that walked on water. He told the children to come to Him. He freed possessed people, cured blind, and raised the dead. He confronted the pharisees and really put them in their place.
His birth was stage one of His death. Filthy and disgusting, he lay in the mess of this world. Our hero, our Savior, our King, longingly anticipated is now finally here… laying in the place animals eat. Not in the same room, but in their actual food dish.
And as He lay with the animals, who just happened to be the only ones who would accept Him when He needed a birthing place, He was now on path to die a miserable death. These are His book ends. His alpha and omega are miserable birth and torturous death.
When we think about how unpleasant it is to think of our Savior this way, we tend to go back into the habit of picturing the kind man that fed thousands. Rarely do we ponder His discomfort. How often do we consider that His birth pain was merely foreshadowing to what He came to do for us?
He was overwhelmingly un-welcomed by those He came to save. Yes we have the angels and the shepherds and the wise men… but we also have the Herod’s, the pharisees, the mobs, the Romans, and even the disciples who neglected Him in prayer and in allegiance.
Yes, the disciples. Denying Him. Fleeing. Selling Him out. Yet we well up with pride when the shepherds are exited to see baby Jesus. Jesus was condemned to die in that manger. It was His mission. We disservice Him directly when we pretty up the picture to something it wasn’t. We imagine a hollywood moment where Jesus is comfortably resting in cozy clothes and the animals all bow down in honor set under a star filled, clear sky with peaceful quiet all around.
I’m not a fan of going for the harsh, bitter, gruesomeness of it all… but that is all it was. This is our Savior. It’s what He came to do. When we forget the story… the whole story, we reduce His sacrifice for us. He came to die. From day one He gave for us. He gave His birthright as King. He gave up comfort, prestige, peace, family, friends, dignity, and so much more.
This time of year we have help in one thing we must always do… remember. Remember who He was, what He made Himself, and who exactly He gave it all away for. You. He took your place. He is your King, lying helplessly among the animals… occupying their feed box, and waiting His turn for the nails to go through as punishment for all the things He didn’t do, but we did.
We remember Jesus in all of His pain, because He did that for us. He took our place. He battled the enemy we can’t beat and He won for each of us. We have to remember the price because we are the prize. He did it for us. To receive us to Himself. A miracle wielding Savior isn’t the whole story. He humbled Himself. He subjected Himself. He was humiliated, shamed, and discarded.
Don’t remember Him out of pity. Cherish the accurate story of what He endured to make it possible to get to us. No one becomes a Christian because they have to. A Christian is someone who experiences the gifts of Jesus and runs out of their life to follow Him. He gave Himself. He is the gift. We are the prize to Him. We will meet and relish that the journey is over. Until then, we remember. He gave everything to receive us.
He doesn’t want a Sunday morning “Christian” that looks the part for a fraction of the story. He wants someone who remembers and follows. The angles rejoiced as Jesus lay in that manger. Can you imagine that? Look at God… in that filth. Yet it invoked a joyous response.
If the angels can rejoice at Jesus’ arrival to pain and misery… what can we muster at the thought of His triumphant return that marks the end of this mess that sparked both the manger and the cross?
And that sums it up splendidly for me. The life and death of Jesus isn’t meant to inspire guilt… It’s meant to bring hope. Because of what He did for us, we have an amazing, supernatural hope. But we must remember what He did and respond.
How will you respond to the Man that endured both the manger and the cross for you? Do you think about the rules and the difficulties like the disciples in their weakest moments? They struggled because they had not yet experienced the cross. But once they did… they traded in everything for the honor of wielding His name. We have double the hindsight as we have both the manger and the cross in our good news.
How can we celebrate the Son who started in a feeder and ended as a tortured spectacle? While that answer must ultimately be up to you, I’ll start you off with this. I think the angels celebrated Christ’s arrival to the manger because they knew something not yet known to the rest of us. I think they knew of the tomb. When you finish the story with an empty tomb… it changes everything.
Christ didn’t suffer so we wouldn’t have to. He suffered and died so that we could have an empty tomb too. Being a Christian is hard. To do what is right, our lives would look like that of Jesus, misery and all. We would know pain and strife. But the empty tomb is the gift Jesus gives to those who remember and follow Him. Not miracles and not easy lives. But hope and eternity in a restored world.
So many refuse Jesus because life doesn’t get easier. It won’t get easier. He didn’t promise that. He promised an empty tomb among other things, but never an easy life. But as He endured the cross I believe He looked at the end game and saw us with Him… and that reminded Him to finish His goal. I also believe we need to do the same. To look to the end game and see Him and the restoration and the empty tomb and we will find nothing is worth not remembering and following Him.