Devotional: Away in a Manager – 4th Saturday in Advent
4th Saturday in Advent
Away in a Manger
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be
born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She
wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.
The final Chrismon on our tree, the manger, reminds us of the humble birth
of Jesus. It is shaped as we might see it in traditional nativity sets or on
Christmas cards: a nice wooden manger filled with golden straw, all set
within a cozy wooden stable with a variety of animals looking on. While there
is nothing bad about this scene, it does mislead us about the humble, earthy
setting of Jesus’ birth. In 1st century Israel, most stables were actually caves
for sheep, holes in a hillside enclosed with a rock wall. In fact, the Church of
the Nativity in Bethlehem, which traditionally marks the site of Jesus’ birth, is
actually built over a sheep cave. The floor would have been covered with manure
and the remains of shepherds’ fires. Cobwebs, dirt and a strong stench
would dominate the scene. And the manger was simply a stone hollowed out
to serve as a feeding trough for the sheep. It is important to get the real picture
of Jesus’ birth, the unsanitized version, to see that he truly humbled himself
for us from his very birth.
What makes this humble birth all the more striking is that it took place under
the shadow of the glory of King Herod. One of his grandest palaces, the
Herodian, literally cast a shadow over Bethlehem as the sun rose each morning.
According to human standards, Herod was one of the great kings of history.
All throughout Israel he left impressive buildings of marble and gold.
Jesus, on the other hand, describes himself as one who had no place to lay his
head. And here, in the Christmas story, his head lay in a cold, hard, stone
manger, under the shadow of the great king. As the characters of the Christmas
story gathered around the manger of Jesus, shivering in the shadow of
Herod, “the king of the Jews,” they had to ask themselves whether they believed
this peasant child was the real “king of the Jews.” And that is the question
that the cold, hard reality of Jesus’ birth presses on us yet today. When
evil seems to cast a shadow over our world, do we still believe that the child
born in the manger is our Lord and king of this world?
Prayer: Jesus, we thank you for humbling yourself that we might be lifted up
into your holy and eternal presence. Even during the cold, hard times of life,
we confess you as our King and Lord. Amen.