Christmas Rewind?-Stable and Manger

1/7/23 I’d like to pause January a bit, which has roared in like a lion and is scheduling my life into a jet stream. If this continues, I guess I’ll be learning how to say no a lot better, including to myself. I’d like to back up and consider something about Christmas–about the Biblical Christmas story to be exact. I missed out on attending any Christmas Eve or Christmas Day (which fell on a Sunday this year) services this year, but I heard several really wonderful messages in the month of December before Christmas weekend at several different churches. Getting a cold, having melting slippery ice in my neighborhood, combined with exhaustion and too much work to do for hosting family for the holiday all worked together to make me say no to church attendance Christmas weekend. However, I am so blessed that my church’s pastoral messages are also made available online, so when I am often sick and unable to attend, I can still be blessed and challenged by the teaching. In one particularly wonderful message overall, I heard the pastor say that “Jesus was born in a manger.” Ouch. It always hurts me when I hear that. Why would that bother me?

It bothers me because I love to really think deeply about all that Mary and Joseph went through in being chosen by God to be Jesus Christ’s parents. I think about what they endured giving birth alone while traveling when proper lodging was not available. Jesus was born in some type of STABLE, not a manger. Joseph likely worked hard to prepare the best bed of hay possible for Mary to go through labor and delivery on, and on which to give birth to Jesus. After Mary gave birth, Joseph and Mary must have worked hard to clean up all the mess of birthing a baby, lovingly and carefully cleaned up their infant son, then wrapped him carefully in the swaddling cloths that Mary had lovingly prepared ahead of time. THEN, he was LAID IN a manger. I wish people could be more careful to say that Jesus was born in a humble stable and laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling cloths as scripture says happened.

Luke 2:1-7:

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Emphasis mine.)

Every time I hear “Jesus was born in a manger,” as a woman who has given birth in the comfort and security of a hospital bed with doctors and nurses attending and assisting, it drives me a bit crazy. The picture of Mary and baby Jesus birthing in an animal feeding trough are atrocious similar to the realization that the King of all Creation, the One who spoke the universe and beyond into existence, was willing to be a human being at all, was willing to be conceived in Mary, born an infant, live a humble earthly life, willing to obey His Father’s mission and face a heinous execution on a shameful cross, was willing to take the sins of the world onto Himself and pay the price for sinners like me. The picture in my mind of Mary physically birthing Jesus into a manger trough disgusts me. The picture of Mary and Joseph birthing Jesus in a humble stable of some sort, and my Savior and King being laid in an animal trough for a bed as an infant is troubling enough.

Oh how I wish I could be as faithful as Mary and Joseph were. The way they chose to surrender their will to their Father’s to have the privilege of parenting their Messiah is such an example for us to follow. Joseph’s life was completely jerked around with unexpected travel to Egypt, etc., and Mary faced so much scandal and even death for her pregnancy before marriage. How quickly Mary answered the angel, without questioning God’s authority over her, with full surrender, saying essentially, God, Thy will be done — it is such an inspiration to me.

Luke 1:38:

“And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

I will try to be more patient with all the inconsistencies that are routinely thrown around at Christmas time, compared to the details of the Biblical account (no one knows how many kings came, angels didn’t sing but speak, etc.) But I also think we would be wise to read the Biblical accounts and the gospels more often. I am shocked at how long I’ve been reading them these 35 years and how little I often still know. And even worse, how poorly I am obeying all that I do know.

Oh Lord, make me more like Mary and Joseph. Help me to learn this difficult yet freeing surrender to Your will. Thank you for their example and for Your example dear Jesus. Thank you Father for being willing to give us Your Son. Let’s celebrate the Incarnation every day, 24/7, in 2023 and beyond. Born in a stable, laid in a manger. Thank you Lord Jesus for every detail of Your humble, servant life. Help every detail of my life somehow bring praise to You, fully God/fully human, forever, for me.

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