Luke 2:4-7 – So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 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. (NIV)
It must be very hard to be far from home at Christmas. Mary and Joseph had that sad experience, but they had no choice. They were a subjected people under Imperial Rome, and they had to obey orders. So here was Mary, a young peasant girl, giving birth in very unsanitary, substandard lodging — a cave of some sort, surrounded by animals. There in the semi-light, the newborn baby was laid in the animals' feeding trough — a manger. It's a delightful setting that touches our feelings deeply. Every Christmas we kneel with the new parents, and watch Jesus' little face, and listen for his breathing.
God had waited so long for his son to be born into our world, it's strange that these poor circumstances were the setting! Today, we would expect so much more — a birthing room and extra-sanitary conditions! Perhaps a new mother in the developing world would not find it so strange.
Over the years I have seen many rough, wooden mangers put safely away in the church storage cupboards as the Christmas services drew to a close. It is a beloved, but humble symbol of a wonderful love. There is no inkling here of neglect or pity. The manger is the nucleus of a true love story! "God so loved the world that he gave his Son …" (John 3:16) Such love accepts the terrible conditions we find ourselves in, from time to time, as we experience God's best choice in a situation that could so easily oppress us, but doesn't. Like Mary and Joseph, we too have found ourselves in bad situations through no fault of our own — other than our human condition. How do we handle it? Let us remember the manger!
So, why the manger? Well, it's better than our worst moment! Where else would they have laid the baby? It was dry, soft, and warm for the tiny, little body, as Jesus snuggled in on the hay. Has Jesus ever had a place of His own? The gospel of Matthew tells us that Jesus had no place to lay His head. Sadly, after the crucifixion, Jesus was laid in a stranger's tomb. Why did the Lord of glory have no place of His own here on earth? Is it because the only true place for God's love to take root and flourish is in our hearts? Yes, we know it is true. That is why we feel so teary when the manger takes its central place on Christmas Eve. Lord, we pray, come into our hearts. Here is a place for You!
Prayer: There has been a hole in each of our hearts, O God, and we have tried to fill the hole with lots of things. Forgive us for thinking we have no room for You. Your manger shows each of us that our lives, be they ever so humble, can be resting places for You. Come, Lord Jesus. Enable each of us to say, "I gladly make room for You. Fill my heart with Your amazing love until that great day when I finally take my place with You in heaven, our true home." As the hymn writer, Frances Ridley Havergal, said, "Take my heart and make it thine. It shall be no longer mine." Lord, You have my heart. Amen.