Rev. VanderWal is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Redlands, California.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
The angels came from heaven with its brilliant glory to speak to shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. They spoke of this child, Mary’s firstborn son. His very star appeared in the east, guiding the wise men from afar to behold this child. Of this one Moses and the prophets gave witness. The prophets of the old dispensation searched out the time of His appearing with great wonder and awe. For this child many godly hoped and prayed and longed. He is the Messiah. Not merely the firstborn of Mary, but the firstborn of all creation. Not merely the firstborn of Mary, but the only-begotten Son of God!
This one was laid in a manger.
How can that be? We are stunned when we hear it! What ill treatment was accorded this one, to whom belongs heaven and earth and all things in them! To be laid in a manger, this abode not of newborn infants, but of grain and hay for the beasts of the field.
Ought we not shudder at such a sight recorded in this verse? This one so great and glorious: Should He not receive far different accommodations for His grand entrance into the world?
We might think of far better!
Let Him be received into the temple! Here is a fit entrance for the all-glorious God come into human flesh. Let the glory of that place crown Him with its splendor. Let the gold and silver adorning the temple point to His value. Let the holiness of that place show the consecration of that holy Child. As He Himself is God, so let the Son of God, clothed with human flesh, be born and laid in that holiest of places on the face of the earth.
No temple. He is laid in a manger.
Let Him be received into a palace. Not the shabby surroundings of the palace of the governor of Judea. Nor even the gilded halls of Herod’s palace. Let Him be received into the palace of Caesar himself. Let His birth be after the manner of the next and final emperor. After all, He is King of kings and Lord of lords. These great nations and their mighty armies are under His dominion.
Let all these attend to His birth. Let Him be surrounded by the best of care, the great physicians of healing. Let them consult together for the best treatment of the least ailment that might beset Him. Let Him be surrounded by the great and mighty soldiers of the Roman empire, lest He be attacked and destroyed. Let Him be surrounded by the wisest counselors and teachers. Hear their advice on raising this special Child. Let the glory of the earth be given to Him.
No imperial palace. He is laid in a manger.
Let us bring our protest where it belongs. Let us bring our arguments against this shameful treatment before the Most High God. Let us speak of the glory of this Child. Let us take note what we might bring, to give Him a proper welcome into this world. Let us even admit that what we have is very little to give to the Son of God. Nevertheless, we do have something, however small. Should that not be meet?
Hear the answer. Hear even the wisdom of God: In a manger!
This is the glad tidings of the gospel. Not by might, nor by power. Not by human wisdom. Not by signs and wonders. But by a manger!
Yes, a manger. A feedbox for animals, even the common beast of the field. A feedbox in a dark, dirty, dank, smelly stable. Surrounded by creatures of the earth also seeking shelter there.
Yes, there in the manger is the gospel.
How can that be?
Should God hear and answer our protest, the gospel would surely be lost to us.
Who would dare to enter into the temple of God, into that most holy place? There the high priest might enter once a year, and that not without blood. Perhaps other priests, especially upon this glad occasion. But not the common man. Not you and I. We would not dare, lest we be consumed by the glory of the Lord.
Who would dare enter into Caesar’s palace? Who would dare attempt breaching the ranks of these heavily armed, well-trained soldiers? Who would not be so intimidated by the gathering of these learned doctors, counselors, and teachers, as to cower in some hidden corner? Who would dare to approach this great Child, so clothed in the finest of garments, and wrapped in such finery?
Not you and I. We could not enter into a temple, or into such an imperial palace.
Some would dare approach. These would be the great ones. They would be the powerful among men, great kings, nobles, emperors, even from far away regions. They would be the wealthy among men, at home and comfortable with gold, silver, and fine tapestries. They would be the learned doctors of wisdom and law.
Would we dare approach? Not at all. Of such a sort we are not. We are far too common. Were we to enter into such dwellings, we would be filled with unease. Too much power, too much riches and splendor surrounding us.
But He was laid in a manger. Blessed glad tidings of the gospel!
For He was born for the humble, the meek and the lowly. He was born for us, who have nothing to offer: no silver or gold, no might and power, no great wisdom and learning. He was born for us who have nothing but sin and misery to give, that He might take it away.
You see, He was not born to receive the glory, the power, the riches of men. He was not born to be served. He has no need of such things. A temple or palace must needs compromise His glory!
Instead, He was born to serve. He was born to give. He was born even to give His life as a ransom for many. He came to exalt the humble, the meek, and the lowly. He came to make the poor rich. He came to make the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the dead to live.
Therefore, say: Let His entrance into this world be not marked by a palace or temple. Let Him be laid in a manger. And let us come before Him, casting everything away of worth or value. By faith let us bow humbly before this Lord of glory, now laid in a manger. That is the way of our salvation: not to give, but only to receive.
Let this be a sign to us: “Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” This is our Savior and our Lord.
Laid in a manger!