We’ve heard the story.
Firstborn son, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. An angel appeared before the shepherds and delivered the message: Fear not, good news, you’ll find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.
Many things about this account are puzzling, but here’s the top two in my book.
Shepherds – Cute, gentle guys in white robes with ropes for belts that love animals
Manger – Wooden basket setting in the middle of the room lined with clean, soft straw
Shepherds – Once a noble profession now sank to be among the lowest in society. Nomadic and work class folk like these were looked down upon. Certainly no one would trust a shepherd with anything important to be done.
Manger – One popular line of speculation is the combination barn and one room home Mary and Joseph chose was a cave carved into the rock. The manger was a feeding trough for farm animals, perhaps carved into the wall or a lower portion of the floor.
So why shepherds and why a manger?
Shepherds were used to being underestimated. They were men content with simple jobs required to be done under challenging circumstances. They knew how to navigate and probably knew the region well. They were tough and would fend off threats by any wild beast or otherwise to their flock. Shepherds also hold a warm place in the heart of God, with David as a shepherd boy and later writing in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd…”
The manger is interesting. The place the babe was to be laid could have been any number of other things – Mary’s arms, a basket, on a blanket and so on. Yet a manger was chosen, chosen to be the symbol and signal to the traveling shepherds. Many children born then and now could be wrapped in “swaddling clothes” – tightly wrapped blankets or strips of cloth to simulate the mother’s womb – but how many infants would the shepherds find lying in an animal trough? That’s a pretty clear signal to the shepherd they arrived at the right place.
The Son of Man, God incarnate (meaning as a person), coming to earth on a rescue mission for all human-kind, could have come any way he would choose and it would be totally appropriate. Yet he determined the best way for him to come to us was through the birth canal of a yet-to-be married teenager, born in a house/barn, laid in an animal feeder and discovered by the lowest form of humanity, the shepherds.
Jesus came to us in a way we could relate to and to recognize that he is one of us and is willing to live among us. He is a humble king. There are so many things about Jesus’ recorded life on this planet that make him relatable, and we don’t have time to examine here (shameless book plug – check out Amazed – Why the Humanity of Jesus Matters for more on this). He didn’t come to us and live this way because he needed to. He came and lived as he did because we need him to.
I need a Savior I can relate to, that I can connect to directly, with no interference by other people, just me and him. I know he lived, suffered and died – as I sometimes suffer and will also die – to promise of new life – but not only a new life in eternity but a new life today!
Jesus is so cool.
Merry Christmas and blessings to you and yours.