Look Beyond The Manger
Don't Concentrate On The Crib
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (Luke 2:1-20).
Harley happens to be our pet dog. He’s a white Jack Russell Terrier with the one black ear. He so reminds us of the RCA (Radio Corporation of America) mascot dog. The thing with Harley is that he’s so willing to please but so shortsighted. While we were in my backyard one afternoon I looked over the field and spotted all sorts of furry creatures. Cottontail rabbits would cut across the tall grass like clockwork. Squirrels would dart up-and-down the trees and gophers would bob their heads in-and-out of their holes. All this activity was happening in plain view. Harley and I were literally surrounded by the local wild life. And as best as I could, I’d spot a creature close by and point it out to him with my finger saying, “Look at that rabbit Harley! There’s a gopher by the rock! Catch that squirrel boy!” Harley simply looked at my finger instead of the animal that it was pointing to. I’d say, “No Harley, over there by the bushes!” The more he focused on my finger the more frustrated I got. This little backyard excursion illustrates a natural mistake we all make during the holiday season.
Little children do this when they open their gifts at Christmas. They get so caught up and engrossed with the wrappings and the box, they completely miss out on the gift that is inside altogether.
It’s the mistake many people make when reading the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel. When you think about the nativity scene what is our focal point? The manger—the Christmas crib. Why it’s the most famous wooden feeding trough in all Christendom. You see it printed on Christmas cards. You find it hanging on Christmas trees. You sing about it in Christmas carols. Churches recreate the story in their Christmas plays. An elaborate manger almost always takes the center stage surrounded by biblical characters, animals, and angels.
To focus on the manger and to forget why it was ever mentioned in the first place is like my dog Harley staring at my finger rather than the object that it points to. Why do you think Luke even bothered to mention the manger a total of three times in his story? I believe it was because this common feeding trough was set apart to be a sign to the shepherds. It pointed them to the baby that they were looking for. It was a sign that agreed with the angel’s message. The manger managed to confirm the news as well as the instructions given to the shepherds that evening. It was the shepherds who were living in the fields who were told of the baby lying in the manger—to them was born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
The manger itself isn’t important. The manger is a signpost, a pointing finger telling us, “Look who’s lying in it.” In fact, we are all invited to peer into this makeshift crib and gaze upon God’s gift to all humankind—wrapped in bands of cloth. We stand alongside the shepherds and find ourselves privy to the baby boy’s identity and his task set before him. You and I along with these selected shepherds share in “the good news of great joy” that needs to be shared abroad.
Bear in mind that this little story unfolded during the glory days of the Roman Empire. It was Augustus Caesar who turned the fledging republic into an indomitable empire with himself as the head. He was the self-proclaimed bringer of justice and giver of peace—a pax romana or Roman peace throughout his conquered world. Caesar’s subjects declared him as a divine ‘son of god’ and praised him as ‘savior’ of the world.
Meanwhile, in a far corner of that same eastern frontier, a baby boy was born who would within a generation be hailed as ‘Son of God.’ His followers would speak of him as ‘Savior’ and ‘Lord.’ His arrival ushered in an era of true justice and peace in the world. Jesus may not have stood before the emperor, but he stood before a governor who was his Roman representative. In this face-to-face encounter, the lines are clearly drawn between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. Augustus may have never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Yet within a century or so his successors in Rome had not only heard of him, they were taking steps to stamp out his followers. And over three centuries later the emperor himself became a follower of Christ.
In the popular action film Enter the Dragon, martial arts master, Bruce Lee, interrupts a meeting to teach his student a lesson. After a brief sparing match the master asks the student to describe how he felt.
Losing focus he mumbles to himself, “Let me think…”
The master gives the student a swift slap on his forehead and says, “Don’t think…feel! It is like a finger pointing away to the moon.”
And just like my dog Harley, the student focuses on his master’s finger.
The master gives him another swift slap on his forehead and says, “Don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory.”
When you see the manger on a card, hanging on a tree or staged in a church play—don’t stop at the manger. The manger is simply a signpost inviting you to go further. Allow the signpost to point you toward the proper destination. It’s not pointing to a place, but a person.
Look beyond the manger and what do you see? Do you see a helpless child wrapped in swaddling cloths or a triumphant king dawning His royal robe? Do you see an earthly trough of hay for feeding animals or a heavenly throne for governing nations? Do you see a Jewish baby who is born within the grip of the Roman Empire or the Son of God who bears in Himself the rule of God’s kingdom on earth?
Don’t concentrate on the crib or you will miss all that heavenly glory—the glorious, subversive, and explosive truth tucked away in a tiny remote village—the truth that will bring the vast and mighty Roman Empire to her knees. The baby lying in the manger is already being spoken of as the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, the Son of God—the true King of the world.
As did the shepherds living in the fields who sought the child Jesus in Bethlehem, the city of David, do share the blessed revelation of this amazing event this holiday season. Celebrate the birth of the Christ child who is born in your hearts by spreading this good news of great joy.
© 2010, Gicky Soriano. All Rights Reserved.
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