The Wonder of Christmas
2 Corinthians 8:9
We have been looking at the wonder of Christmas. We began by looking at the wonder of God’s promises, or as we often call them, prophecies. Prophecies fulfilled in Jesus Christ. God gave over 300 promises through dozens of people over 4,000 years and they were all fulfilled in Jesus Christ. In fact, Peter tells us that Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times” (1 Peter 1:20). In other words, God was planning this before the creation of the world. We found that the odds of only 8 of these promises being fulfilled in one person is astronomical, 1 in 100 quadrillion.
Last week, we looked at the wonder of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Immanuel, God with us. God becomes flesh and dwells among us. It is beyond comprehension that Jesus, the eternal pre-existent One, the One who is with God in relationship as a Son, the One who is God in all authority and power, who is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, the One who gives us physical and spiritual life, . . . this Jesus . . . became a human being. But beyond that, He became a human being so that He could give His life for us, so that He could die! I don’t know if you remember the story of the ants, but I know of no one who would be willing to do what Jesus did for us.
The wonder of Christmas. The love of God for humanity is painted all over Christmas. Why would God do this for us? God loves the unlovable, extends mercy to the undeserved, and gives the gift of grace to the unworthy. This is truly the wonder of Christmas.
Today I want to look at the wonder of the manger. In Luke 2:7 we find a very simple description of Jesus’ birth.
And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
What is a manger? The word translated manger in Luke 2:7 is the Greek word φάτνη (phat-nay). The word refers to an enclosed space for domestic animals such as horses or oxen, sheep, or goats, but in particular, a specific item in the enclosure, like a feeding trough or crib for feeding animals (Danker). Now I don’t know about you, but it would be very difficult to put a new born baby in a feeding trough or manger where slobbery animal have been eating. Granted, Mary had the baby wrapped and we assume that they may have had some fresh hay or something like that, but no matter what they may or may not have had to put under baby Jesus, it is still an animal feeding trough.
I want to set the scene for us from a biblical understanding of the times when Jesus was born. I hope that this does not destroy any cherished images you may have of the Christmas story, but there are things that I think that are important for us to understand about the setting of Jesus’ birth.
First, we often hear it said at Christmas that Jesus was “born in a manger.” Jesus was not actually born in a manger, but after Jesus was delivered, He was wrapped in swaddling cloths, and laid in a manger. Not a huge deal, because the manger could possibly refer to the whole animal enclosure, but let’s describe it in a way that is accurate.
Second, the “inn” that had no room was not a motel. When we think of an inn, we usually envision something like a Motel 6 or a Bed and Breakfast. But unfortunately for us, translators used the word “inn” which conjures up the wrong image in our minds. The word translated “inn” in our Bibles is κατάλυμα (kataluma), it is used to refer to a large place provided for rest or eating in, a lodging place; more specifically, a guest room (Friberg). It is a guest room in a home intended for traveling friends or family.
Those familiar with the feasts of Israel understand that rooms like this near Jerusalem for family members was important for the pilgrimage feasts. These rooms were often on the roof of the home much like the upper room that Jesus and His disciples used, or sometimes out behind the home. There was no room for Mary and Joseph in the guest room, the κατάλυμα of the family home that they hoped to stay with. The English word “inn” used to translate κατάλυμα (kataluma) gives us the wrong impression.
There is another word translated “inn” in the book of Luke that is more fitting to our idea of an inn or motel today. If you remember the story of the Good Samaritan, after he bound up the wounds of the man who fell among thieves, the Good Samaritan took this man to an “inn” (Luke 10:34). The word translated “inn” in the story of the Good Samaritan is πανδοχεῖον (pandocheion). This word has the idea of a motel, a lodging place for travelers. This is not the kind of place Luke says that Joseph and Mary found themselves at. They were at the guest room, κατάλυμα (kataluma), of a home and probably a relative’s home.
In this cultural setting, it was common for homes to have a lower level where family livestock can be brought in for feeding, milking, and caring for ones that might be injured. Like a tuck under garage in our homes today, they would have a small area tucked under the home or right adjacent to their home to care for animals. There they would have a wooden or stone feeding trough to feed the animals there. It was not a large area and animals would only be kept in there when they needed protection from the cold, milking, nursing to health, or special care.
So, if we understand the cultural setting, it may change our western perception of the situation somewhat. Joseph and Mary were returning to Bethlehem for the “census.” Joseph is of the lineage of King David and thus, he was required to report to Bethlehem, King David’s birthplace. Many Jewish families would be traveling to ancestral homes because of the census. Joseph and Mary traveled to Bethlehem and probably stayed at some relatives that lived in town. Because of the large influx of people, the house was probably crowded and the κατάλυμα (kataluma), the guest room, was full. Consequently, Joseph and Mary would have been told they could stay in the lower level of the house. They certainly would not have been turned away by their relatives, but given whatever accommodations were available.
Some time after Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus and laid Him in the manger because there was no room in the guest room of the house. So, it is likely that Joseph and Mary were staying in the in the lower level where the animals were fed and cared for. Our western thinking of motels and stables should be modified to more aptly fit the context of the cultural setting of Jesus’ day.
Certainly, I am not suggesting that we get rid of our nativity scenes if it looks like a barn or a cave, because they still convey the important message of the manger. What is the message of the manger? Humility! We have seen the wonder of God’s provision of a strategic plan for salvation through the prophecies. We have seen the wonder of God’s love put on grand display in His incarnation, His becoming human. In the manger we see the grandest display of humility and meekness we can ever imagine.
I believe 2 Corinthians 8:9 captures the sense of this.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
What does this verse have to do with Christmas and the manger? This verse is talking about the gift He gave when He was born to Mary in an animal stall. The first part of verse nine shows us that:
The Manger is God’s Place of Grace
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
As Paul talks about giving of ourselves for others, He points to Jesus Christ as our example in verse 9. He is the epitome of giving. He gave everything. When I think about the time celebrate as Christmas, the time we celebrate as the human birth of Jesus, what we defined last week as the incarnation, I am blown away by God’s grace. As you know, grace is the receiving of something we do not deserve. It is a gift that we can do nothing worthy of receiving it.
Think about this. Jesus’ first resting place outside of His mother’s arms was an animal feeding trough. God’s magnificent gift came down from the glories of Heaven to become our Savior. This gift of salvation is received by faith.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
When I think about the manger, this place where my Savior rested probably within hours of His birth, . . . I see grace. God’s gift, God’s undeserved gift to all who will receive Him. This gift is not necessarily pretty, not well adorned with pomp and circumstance, not honored by throngs of people. No, this gift is delivered by a virgin in an animal stall with all the privacy it could not give to this young couple. Maybe a relative helped with the birth, but all in all the Savior of mankind came into existence unknown to most of the world.
God sent angelic messengers to shepherds, caused stars to lead to the place people to where Jesus was, but for the most part, the world went on as if nothing ever changed. But this baby changes the world. The manger is God’s place of grace.
The Manger is God’s Humility
that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor
Last week we spoke of a boy who wanted to help some ants. But in order to help the ants, he would need to become an ant. Imagine a human transformed to an ant. Yet the fact that God became man is more profound than that.
What does it mean that Jesus was rich? Well, he had everything. Remember, He is God. All the power of God, authority of God was at His disposal. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that He created. As Creator, He has everything available to Him. Though Jesus didn’t stop being God when He became human, He choose not to cling to His being God and refuse to become human.
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
Jesus was rich as the God of Heaven, yet He took on human flesh as a baby born in an animal stall and laid in a manger. Jesus, lying in a manger is a most dramatic picture of His humility we can imagine. No rocking cradle with golden balusters. No soft and fluffy mattress with silken linings. No warm and cozy home. No sanitized counters to be changed on. No colorful jammies to sleep in. None of the things you would expect for a baby born of royalty and riches much less the God of Heaven.
Jesus was not placed in a cradle of gold, but a manger of hay. Jesus became poor, though He certainly had the ability to change all that, He choose to humble himself, and as Philippians 2 says, humbles Himself to the point of even receiving death. The manger is a grand display of God’s humility.
The Manger is God’s Gift
So that you by his poverty might become rich.
By the poverty Jesus submitted Himself to . . . we become rich. What does that mean? How did we become rich? You see, when a person puts their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, we become rich in God. We become the sons and daughters of God. We become heirs and joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We become citizens of Heaven for all eternity. We are given the Spirit of God’s power through His Holy Spirit. We are transformed from the inside out. We are made a new creation in Him. We no longer are under the weight of the penalty for our sin because Jesus took that on the cross. He fills us with His joy. We find satisfaction and purpose for life in Him. WE ARE RICH!
I can guarantee you that the richest person in the world today does not have the benefits you and I have. Without Jesus Christ in their lives their earthy riches are nothing. We are children of the King of Heaven, His chosen possession and in response to that we should proclaim His glories.
1 Peter 2:9-10
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Do you see what the manger means? He became poor that we might become rich! If we can only come to a place of understanding the wonder of that, I believe that our natural response can only be to tell others of what Jesus has done for us. He took on human flesh and died on a cross to take the curse of death that we might experience life in Him.
Do you remember how the shepherds responded after they saw Jesus in the manger?
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
Video – The Christmas Dilemma – Shepherd
Do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?
Have you put your faith and trust in Him?
When we accept by faith the free gift of salvation, our identity rest in Jesus. The One who identified with us in human flesh. God sees us as clean, complete, and chosen children of God. We don’t have to die to enjoy the riches and blessings of salvation. Eternal life begins the moment you receive Him by faith. Have you received the riches Jesus become poverty stricken for?
If so, have you told others about it?