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The Mystery of the Manger

There was no hospital. No medical staff. No one to help except the anxious father-to-be. When young Mary, exhausted from a long ride to Bethlehem, delivered her baby, she had no crib to lie him in–just a manger for holding animal feed. But that manger held the Son of God.

To be sure, God provided what Mary and Joseph needed for the baby. But why would He choose such a humble beginning on earth for His Son?

Away in a Manger
When my baby was born, I wanted the best for her. She had a special bed passed down from her aunt. She had new bedding, stuffed animals, clothes and diapers, all in a freshly painted room of her own. She had everything a baby could need and more.

Mary’s baby, on the other hand, slept in a rough, dirty feeding trough. He wore simple strips of cloth. The animals surrounding him weren’t stuffed but real–and dirty and smelly. He didn’t have a nursery; He didn’t even have a home. No one would ever have guessed that this baby was born from a line of kings, that He Himself was the King of Kings. No one would have dreamed He was the Messiah.

There was no hospital. No medical staff. No one to help except the anxious father-to-be.

Silent Night
When my daughter was born, there was much celebration in the land–at least, our little corner of it. Her dad and I stared at her with amazement, joy, and trepidation. Our family fell in love with her, and friends gave gifts and brought food. Balloons even decorated our mailbox to announce her arrival.

The Messiah’s coming had been foretold for centuries through prophets like Isaiah. He was from King David’s line, but instead of elevating His Son with a royal birth, God chose just the opposite: a birth on the run, in the lowliest of places. Only humble shepherds and pagan dignitaries celebrated Christ’s coming. Except for a joyous announcement by the angels, it was indeed a silent night.

What Child Is This?
Jewish scholars knew about the Messiah but expected Him to reign on David’s throne. With names like “Wonderful Counsellor”, “Mighty God”, “Everlasting Father”, and “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6), the Messiah would free His people from the oppressive Roman rule, the Jews thought, and elevate Israel to its rightful place as God’s chosen people.

But they misunderstood and misinterpreted the prophecies about Christ. Christ came to free His people, yes, but from something much bigger than the mighty Roman Empire. He would lift up the oppressed not by the sword but by the cross. Further, His love, His teaching and healing, and His serving were not just for the Jews but for all people, even the Romans.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel
Messiah would be called Emmanuel–”God with us.” The Word became flesh and lived among us, and His ministry constantly surprised people. Jesus’ companions were fishermen, tax collectors, even sinners. With His own hands He touched the sick and the poor, the unclean and unwanted–something the Pharisees would never have done. To their further shock, He even forgave people’s sins. He travelled all over the region, ministering wherever His Father led Him, drawing crowds, challenging religious scholars. The Pharisees’ hatred and fury drove them to do the unimaginable: at the betrayal of His friend, they had Jesus arrested, tried, and crucified. And that, they thought, was that.

O Come, O come Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Joy to the World!
But, thank God, that’s not the end of the story. The Messiah walked out of the tomb that was meant to hold Him forever. He defeated sin and death for all time. The shedding of His innocent blood means new life and freedom in Christ for everyone who believes on His name.

Jesus’ astonishing birth was the perfect beginning for His astonishing life. From the humble manger to the humiliating cross, Jesus took the form of a servant. His resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit means that we still have God with us. He lives in our hearts and works in our lives. And someday, we will be with Him in heaven for eternity.

Joy to the world, indeed!

****
LeAnne Benfield Martin, a regular contributor to Walk Thru the Bible, writes about the beauty around us at glimsen.net.

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