The manger scene is one of the most iconic scenes in the world. It is easily recognizable to people of almost every nation, tribe, and tongue, and though it is a subtle picture, it loudly speaks one word to all who behold it: Christmas. Whether your nativity set is life-sized or miniature, brand new or passed down, let’s take a moment to pause and consider this well known Christmas scene.
It has been debated on whether or not the birth of Jesus took place in an actual stable made of wood or a dark cave nestled in the rocks. Were there animals present as some songs suggest, or did the shepherds bring along their sheep? Scripture tell us that the Magi from the east visited not during the week of Jesus’ birth, but instead a few months or years afterwards, but never mentions just how many 'wise men' there were, or their names. It is true that many of these details that scripture leaves out make up most of our iconic scenes, but are they really all that important to the manger’s theme?
What is clear about this beautiful night is that a young virgin gave birth to the Son of God in a less than favorable environment, most likely on a dirty floor surrounded by smelly animals. It’s not exactly what we would have in mind for the birth of a King which was announced in the sky by hosts of angels, and yet this lowly scene perfectly fits with the humility found in Jesus.
The simple truth is this: In this scene of the greatest act of redemption the world has ever known, Almighty God sent His only Son to His created earth as a vulnerable baby to save all of mankind from a fate worse than death. It speaks of an incredible humility, and brings to mind the verse from 1 Corinthians 1, “and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
What could be more weak and helpless than a newborn baby? Babies can do nothing for themselves, and are entirely dependent upon others for their care, nurture, and safety. Yet our magnificent Creator humbled Himself to the lowest form of human dependency for a singular purpose: to be the Savior who takes away the sin of the world!
Even in the choosing of Jesus’ mother we see the continued thread of humility interwoven in the birth story. In Luke 1 we have some insight into a pregnant Mary’s song of praise as she visits with her cousin Elizabeth, “For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.” He chooses lowly people to accomplish great things in His name.
When you think about who showed up at the manger, and even during Jesus’ toddler years, is it not surprising that there were really only a handful of people who acknowledged the miraculous birth of a King? Not only were they few in number, but outside of the Magi they were people of no consequence. They were ordinary people with regular jobs going about their daily routines with no thought of what was to come. Yet this singular history-altering event changed their lives, and their simple response to the manger has been honored and celebrated for generations.
If you find yourself feeling hopeless, lost, or even overwhelmed this Christmas, may we suggest that you take a moment to behold the meaning in the manger scene? How will you respond to the wondrous gift in the birth of Jesus? It is a wonderful thing indeed to think upon the love that motivated the Creator of the Universe to be so humbly brought to earth to save you. There is nothing more hopeful, more life-giving, or more awe-inspiring than this powerful truth -- it is the meaning in the manger.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come,
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing
“For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 NLT