As I continue my journey through the letters of the Christmas song, C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S, I arrive today at the letter “M”. A Christmas vocabulary list for this letter will include: merry, mistletoe, mittens, myrrh, mince pie, Merry Christmas, and manger (the word the song references).
I know most of us are struck by the place and surroundings for the birth of Jesus, but it also provides additional symbolism. A manger is a long open box or trough for horses or cattle to eat from. That seems inauspicious indeed for Jesus, the Messiah, and the Son of God. It certainly speaks to meekness, lowliness, simple, modest, unostentatious, poor, undistinguished, and humble.
To be humble is a struggle and not always even revered in modern times as valuable, but in Jesus we see immediately a disdain for riches, pomp, and worldly status. He epitomizes humility in showing a low estimate of His own importance, rank, or position. He chose (with his Father) to lay aside his place next to the Father in heaven and arrived in human form in the lowliest of places and circumstance. Do we even consider how great a love was shown to give all of that up even before we get to the agony of the cross, the betrayal of disciples, and the harangue of the Pharisees?
When I consider words that are synonymous with humble, it fleshes out an extended awareness of what that means when we apply it to this Jesus of the manger in Bethlehem. Some synonyms to consider would be: courteous, gentle, polite, respectful, soft-spoken, content, deferential, demure, submissive, and reverential.
How could He be all these?
One reason is that He did not esteem Himself to be above his Father.
Jesus had been with his Father always…before the foundation of the world, at Creation and ever afterward…He knew Him intimately and submitted to and joined the grand plan to reconnect and reconcile with mankind after the fall in the Garden of Eden. He honored his Father and though equal to his Father in the Trinity, He did not place Himself above his Father. I love the way The Message reads Paul’s words about this in Philippians 2:6 (MSG):
“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.”
Wow! What a challenge from Paul to each of us!!
Only through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit can we hope to attempt even a little of His likeness in this.
There is one other symbolic piece of this manger I would ask you to consider. God never wastes any opportunity to enrich what He wants us to see if we look a little closer.
A manger was a place for feeding and sustenance. That night in Bethlehem so long ago when Jesus was carefully laid there, it was as well. He was “food and sustenance” for any and all of us who would believe. Note John 6:35 (ESV):
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
The manger, the trough, that had held food for horses and cattle, now held a child, a Savior, who would feed and nourish us all.
Yes, there was the miracle of feeding of the five thousand and then four thousand at another time. That was food and sustenance for the physical bodies of those who were seeking and following Him, but to be the “bread of life” was to offer us something so much more. It gave us real life! It gave us life eternal! It fed us with nourishment that would help our hearts and spirits to withstand living in this fallen world until He returns to take us with Him.
Looking back at the original purpose for the manger is to be aware the cattle and horses would need to bend their heads (humble) to eat and gain nourishment. We, too, need to bend our heads and not esteem ourselves too highly, to be humble to eat from this precious “bread of life.”
See how Matthew so beautifully describes what that looks like in Matthew 11: 29-30 (MSG):
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
During this holy season that is often too busy, He invites us to the manger to humble ourselves, to feed on Him, to eat from His table in His Word, to learn of Him and “the unforced rhythms of grace.”
He invites us to “keep company with” Him!