Mary, Mary, what was it like to put your baby in a manger?
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus lay down His sweet head.
The stars in the sky look down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.”
Sweet innocent voices of children sing us into a swirl of Christmas memories. The Christ-child has come; it’s Christmas. All that’s good and beautiful and noble in the world. The song sounds just right, just the way Christmas ought to have been that first holy night.
Wait. Stop the music. What’s wrong with this picture? Let’s return to reality. A manger is a feeding trough. No sweet hay. Donkey breath touched and crunched that drivel-drenched mound of straw. The Health Department would have had conniptions. O Lord, haven’t you heard of Ben Franklin? Cleanliness is next to godliness and there ain’t nothin’ clean about a animal trough as a clandestine baby crib. My Western sensibilities are making my nose twitch.
Why was Jesus placed in a manger? Okay, don’t give me the Bible answer. Yes, yes, I know. There was no room in the inn. Like true blue pioneers, Mary and Joseph made do with what they had. Seriously, though. This is the Lord of the Universe. Couldn’t God have MADE room in the inn? Couldn’t He have motivated some compassionate soul to sleep on the floor that night so the heavy with child Mother of our Lord could sleep in some kind of earthly peace?
I don’t know where babies usually slept in New Testament times. I can’t imagine that bassinets and cribs had been invented. The very fact that the gospel according to Luke mentions that Mary lay Jesus in a manger tells me it was an unusual thing for a parent to do. Think about it. If Jesus slept where babies normally slept, the angel who appeared to the shepherds would not have added that little detail in his destination description.
Surely other babies resided in Bethlehem. Our planned-perfect God chose a distinctive feature that would separate the baby Jesus from all other babies, an identifying cue so unusual, its accuracy would validate the angel’s message.
When life doesn’t go according to my plans or fit into the framework of my convenience, I need to remember that manger. That hiccough in life, that singular oddity, that embarrassing difference might be God’s signpost that something God-driven is happening here. It has to be different, set apart from the status quo, so others will recognize it for what it is – a work of God in my life.
It makes me think of my doctor’s appointment last January when an ophthalmology specialist discovered a torn retina he said he couldn’t fix. Yet that signpost was the very thing that led him later to do surgery and make surgical changes that gave me vastly improved vision, allowing me to praise God’s glorious power to dozens of people Something singular had to happen with my vision so a doctor would go into surgery and become an instrument of God’s mighty power.
What unexpected, uncomfortable, one-of-a-kind hiccoughs have happened in your life? Bumps in the road you wish would smooth out so everyone around you won’t watch you stumble and fall? Is it possible that the very thing you see as a menace might be a megaphone of God’s grace and love for you? God might want to take that inconvenience to ripple His glory to others beyond your inner circle, folks you don’t even know who need a ray of hope to overcome their own obstacles.
He can do it. Like smelly animal troughs, He uses the unexpected and ordinary to cradle His greatest treasures so no one can possibly miss the memo.
Thank you so much for sharing my walk along God’s parade ground of grace. It’s been a year full of God’s signposts. May you and those close to you have a marvelous celebration of the Lord’s amazing entry into this world. May you find the peace and joy He came to offer.