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Beyond the Manger

Myguess would be that most, if not all, of us have a creche or manger scene that we display in our homes. These may range from simple hand-carved figures, to extremely expensive Fontanini’s, to light-up plastic yard models. Now, before we begin, I want to assure you that my purpose for this message is not to ruffle feathers, burst bubbles, or ruin anyone’s Christmas. But I believe it is important to remember that many things we “know” about Christmas are from tradition rather than Scripture.

Tere was most likely no lightly falling snow the night Jesus was born. Bethlehem was probably anything but “still” considering its influx of population due to the census. Jesus may have cried as much as any normal human baby. In the reading of the simple, straightforward account of Luke 2, the only reference to where Jesus was born is, “And she (Mary) gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) There is no mention of a stable, or animals gathered around.

I’ suggesting that we get beyond the manger. Those of us who have been raised in the church and have heard the Bible stories in countless Sunday School lessons and sermons can fall into the danger of oversimplifying the accounts. First, we need to recall that Bible “stories” are Bible and world history. These Bible history lessons were recorded for the very special purpose of showing us good and bad examples and to give us proper understanding (1 Corinthians 10:11).

I the telling of Jesus’ birth, we have the good examples of the shepherds who, when they were told the angel’s message, hurried to immediately see the wonderful gift of a Savior given to them. Next, they went out to share God’s grace by telling anyone and everyone the joyous news. And finally, these humble servants of God returned to their labors “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20), for all that had transpired.

Athough we are told that “all who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:18), we don’t hear of any of the townsfolk taking the initiative to see the child for themselves. And even though this attitude is slightly better than Herod’s fear at the news of the King’s birth, it is worlds better than the lukewarm response of the priests who knew of the birth, knew of its importance, and yet did nothing.

Ye, all of this was for naught if Jesus didn’t go beyond the manger. Jesus didn’t come to earth to be a cute, cuddly child to be adored, but rather a grown man whipped and bloodied on the path to the cross. Jesus didn’t come to earth to bring us Christmas presents, but to bring us into God’s presence. It is only through His death in our place that our sins have been paid for in full. It is by the transmitting of His righteousness to us that we can be sure of our salvation for which we worship and praise His name!

Wehave all heard the old saw, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Let us pray this is never true of us in regard to God and His Word. After all, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning.” (Lamentations 3:22-23) If the Lord is willing to renew His love and mercy for us daily, shouldn’t our praise and appreciation arise to match? Grant us, O Lord, to daily appreciate the familiar Bible accounts that you have made known to us!

David W. Bernthal is a retired teacher. He is a member of Luther Memorial Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.