Our familiarity with the first Christmas scene can easily blunt us to its staggering wonder. Luke 2:12 records the infant Christ as ‘lying in a manger’. Think of that!
Here is condescension and humiliation of the highest degree, for here is the eternal Son of God — the One through whom God made all things and who is dependent on nobody — now lying in a manger as a helpless baby, completely dependent on others for support.
A well known carol is right when it states, ‘Lo within a manger lies, He who built the starry skies’. A less well-known carol likewise runs:
‘The eternal Word who built the earth and skies,
Takes on Him flesh, and in a manger lies.
In that dear Babe of Bethlehem I see
My God, contracted to a span for me.’
Why though, at the first Christmas, did the eternal Son of God lie in a trough normally used for animal feed? We can answer the question from both a human and divine perspective.
Luke 2:7 tells us that Mary ‘laid [Jesus] in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn’. Bethlehem was crowded. Accommodation was at a premium as people returned to their town of origin to be enrolled for taxation purposes.
Perhaps the proprietor of the inn had quibbles about giving hospitality to a woman who was evidently about to give birth. But think a little deeper: prophecy was being fulfilled and the divine plan of salvation was being worked out.
A virgin had conceived and given birth to Emmanuel. Almighty God had taken upon himself human flesh; the Messiah had arrived. The angels of heaven were celebrating, but earth seemed nonplussed.
There was no great reception for the Saviour. He was crowded out. Folks went on their earthbound course as normal. ‘He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not’ (John 1:10).
Things don’t seem to have changed much, even these 2,000 years or so later. How many who celebrate Christmas truly celebrate the Christ of Christmas? How many who welcome the ‘festive season’ have given a welcome to the eternal Saviour? Christ can still get crowded out: ignored, neglected or even rejected, to the eternal peril of a person’s soul.
‘The crowded inn, like sinners’ hearts.
O ignorance extreme!
For other guests of various sorts
Had room, but none for Him.’
We need not be unduly pessimistic however, as the Bible teaches God’s effectual calling and irresistible grace. God will most surely save his people. He will most certainly break down all the barriers and draw his people to Christ. No obstacle is too great for omnipotence.
When God’s Holy Spirit has been at work in the human soul, there will always be room for Jesus. Just as Christ was born miraculously of the Holy Spirit, so every Christian has similarly been reborn of the same Holy Spirit of God.
The divine answer to the question as to why Christ lay in a manger is given many times in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 1:15, for instance, tells us simply and succinctly that ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.
The Son of God then was born and lived to save sinners, and eventually died and rose again to save sinners. We are all sinners, worthy of God’s wrath. But Christ came into the world to save us from God’s wrath. This is the gospel — the truly ‘good news’ — that transcends Christmas time.
One way in which the Bible describes God’s judgment is by that formidable phrase, ‘the second death’. Christ died, that sinners who believe in him might be saved from the second death.
The immortal God took upon himself our flesh and blood, so that he might die in our place and bestow upon us the gift of eternal life. ‘Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins’ (Hebrews 9:22). Hence the eternal Son of God took upon himself our flesh and blood, and laid down his sinless life for sinners at Calvary. His precious blood was shed there for the sinner’s forgiveness.
So Christ’s birth — his lying in a manger — was all part of God’s great eternal plan of redemption. God himself sent his only Son into the world so that his people could be saved, reconciled to God, and enjoy God’s fellowship for all eternity.
Almighty God has his plan of redemption. And if your faith is in the Christ of Bethlehem who became the Christ of Calvary, you have been embraced in God’s gracious redemption.
‘Not in that poor lowly stable,One day you will see Christ face to face and rejoice evermore that he was born for you at Bethlehem and died for you at Calvary to pay the price of your sins. There is a well-known Christmas carol, which, although widely sung, can only really be sung without hypocrisy by Christians. For it can only be truly sung by those saved by the grace of God in Christ. It goes:
With the oxen standing by,
We shall see him, but in heaven
Set at God’s right hand on high,
Where like stars his children crowned
All in white shall wait around.’
Timothy Cross has written many Christian books and articles and has an honorary doctorate from Christian Bible College, Rocky Mount, NC (www.TimothyJCross.org)