When I give directions, I often point out landmarks, when people come to my house, I tell them 10th house down with a Blue Audi outside. When you get down my road, count roughly to ten and look out for a Blue Audi. There’s enough information in that direction to think this is about ten houses and the chances of there being another Blue Audi are slim, especially in the next 3-4- houses and the fact it was given to you as a signpost makes it very likely you have found my house…
The Audi signifies that this is my house.
That was the thing about the manger. A roughly carved stone drinking trough with a Baby inside was unusual enough that when the Angels said they would find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in and there he was, they must have been sure this was the child Angel Gabriel had said to go see.
The other thing about the oddness of it, is that it sorts of proves they hadn’t lost their marbles, or the cold had not given them a funny turn, and an Angel really had directed them this way.
Even more importantly if we have seen an angel and he was right about this strange location for a Baby, and they had found them to prove they hadn’t imagined it. The angels were right about one other thing, and this was the messiah. What with the census going on it might be expected a few mothers and children might run away? But the manger was a signpost, this particular baby, in this location, in a rough drinking trough.
The manger was a sign.
This sign of the manger was given to Shepherds. Shepherds at this time were considered as very lowly people in society. They could not give testimony or be a witness, as they were not considered reliable. In a rigid honour based society, they were among the lowest..
So not only was the sign of the manger one of poverty, but it was given to the poorest and those regarded as the most unreliable.
These low born people were also his first heralds. They were the first ones to go and explain what had happened.
God’s and Messiah’s do not in our worlds view enter into the world like that. Our royalty leaves the king Edward hospital in the west end with the worlds press and world leaders as heralds and the woman looks very smart has her coiffured hair styled perfectly with. Dad in a very expensive suit, both smiling, holding the perfect baby as the cameras flash, and enter into a life of conspicuous privilege to lead a life detached from the day-to-day reality of all of us.
This view of royalty is one of detached, entitled perfection. It’s given to us as an aspirational thing. However, as Christians we recognise it is the precise polar and exact opposite of Jesus. But with that in mind we have to come to terms with the fact this place, this location, this poverty, displacement, and helplessness was a deliberate choice of God .God made that choice.
So we have to ask? this way God?
Why hasn’t Jesus been zapped out of the sky, been heralded by trumpets, prime ministers and princes, had roses thrown at his feet. Why hasn’t he turned up on a Gold chariot, with hangers on, mothers hair coiffured with Joseph in a Saville row suit in front of the worlds eager press .
Why has he not been led into glorious wealth, and led a detached life, while issuing ethical advice from said detachment about how we should all live? Why has god decided this way?
This is not an accident, God is complete, in every facet, in every part of his nature and being, he lacks nothing and is in everything. Omnipresent across space and time, knowing everything. However, not content with reducing himself from a thing with no boundaries in time or space, to an object, a creature with form and shape and limitations “the word” the ultimate, the alpha and omega etc. he joins us as a homeless baby
This is a god that instead of standing back and pointing the finger at everything bad. Joins us in it, born into poverty, on the run, placed in a drinking trough , literally in the mess made by animals, scared, met by and announced by societies outcasts. Totally reliant on parents, who themselves are exposed to danger, a refugee, essentially homeless,
That reason for that choice is the same reason I am a Christian, the reason for all the faiths for me this marks out our faith as unique.
Why Lord why? What should we make of this choice?
Because the only God I could ever worship, is one who met me at my lowest, who knows me at my worst, joins me in my suffering, loves me enough to die for, one who isn’t big ,scary and detached. But a baby who you could pick up and smile at, and who needs the care of a scared mother to survive. Who chose angels , a mum and the lowest of the low to announce him?
That’s the perspective the manger gives us, Christianity does not start with “Jesus saves you from your sins.” It starts with “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” This means we cannot reduce Christianity to a method of being saved. It is a way of viewing reality and the narrative of scripture should influence our view of reality, how it was made, what are we, where we fit, what are we to God, what are others, etc. This view of reality in today’s shows us a lot about our lord, who he is ,who he chooses, where he is.
I don’t think he ever left the manger really; I personally feel closest to him among the homeless in southend. We often feel him most strongly when we are lost or alone, or scared or vulnerable. This is because this God knows what that is like to be vulnerable, and reaches out. This is where he is today in our story a helpless babe among the helpless, hapless and unreliable
The other person of course who shared this story is his mother. This is a mother’s story. Scholars think by the way that it was Mary that gave Luke this story. Unusually Mary’s name comes before Josephs in the text, and the fact that her reflection is mentioned in this is Luke making it as clear as he could where he got this story from . This is a mother recalling a night no mother would forget a detail about. “ But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart”. The other thing that indicates this is Luke making it clear she did these things.
This is a God for 2020 isnt it? When our lives meet the real mess of life. A mother remembering giving birth in a smelly place with animals, and placing your child in the animals trough, on the run, sore, scared, worried, with a fresh burden of a new mouth to feed.
Mary’s prince is probably clearing the dung in the stable, emptying the trough, staying with her despite his young wife having given birth in a very odd way and not really understanding whats happening. His vulnerability is a sign to us , same way the manger is a sign to us, that where we should be, not pointing a finger but with others, helping saving making whole, clearing up the dung. So when we and so many are at our lowest point, I have no doubt that’s where he is, right there with us. Not pointing a finger, but with us, helping ,saving, making whole, loving us.
That’s where our lord put himself. Not by accident, not by mistake, but because that’s where he chose to be. He hasn’t locked himself up on a private island to rule us from the internet. He’s in our pain, in our loss, emptying his completeness into our loss. The angels made sure the shepherds knew him by the very fact of his poverty. The manger marked him out. The mother passed on the story, The outcasts announced him.
The shepherds show us we don’t need to be among the worlds elite to announce him, and that’s such a comfort to me personally. This story helps show that those who may feel themselves or may have been made to feel unworthy can be his heralds, and announce who he is. He doesn’t need the worlds press and the paparazzi, he can have a shepherd, an ordinary mum, or a slightly sweary east end boy.
This story is shared by the angels, the shepherds, Mary when she told luke, and me, and hopefully you.
All quite different beings but all given the same job.
Inthis story we are also shown how we must announce him, where we are to begin when we speak about him.
The manger marks our God out as one who’s selfless love meets us at the lowest point imaginable.
When we speak about him, we must begin at the manger, when the shepherds in our story did as was told in out scripture “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” , they were said to be amazed, almost certainly like us, amazed that God had chosen this way to enter the world. With the lost, placed in a drinking trough, with lowly scared parents, heralded by outcasts.
That gives us all hope , and shows us where to begin when we explain him, not from a lofty perch handing out great advice from above but from the perspective of fellowship of those who may not always feel worthy, but are worthy of being Christ’s heralds. We should be where the worlds at its messiest, and meet it with love, and see the world as inhabited by Gods precious creation worth enough to die foe
When we meet the outcast, the lost, the sad, the refugee, the desperate we have to meet them as if they were precious, parts of Gods creation , worthy of being heralds of Christ, because they are . So wherever you reach out to the lost, dispossessed, helpless angry, and bring peace through love that’s being Christ. Meet them at the manger, from the perspective of the manger, this is a God who met the world from the manger, used it as his sign. Share it from the perspective of the Shepherds,as someone who may be unreliable witness to some but chosen by God to share his good news, or the mother remembering her beloveds first day,
Oh and we share a helpless babe, that shows us that when we are at our wits end, when we are lost, clueless, worried, feeling unloved, scared by the future that’s being helpless is Christlike as well.
We have all had our days in 2020 when it all got on top of us, not known the right thing to do. Grappled with seemingly contradictory demands and tried to work out the least worst option. Felt pretty hopeless doing so, 2020 has reduced all of us to the vulnerability of a baby in a manger. Been made feel less than worthy.
Christ shows us its Ok to be vulnerable, to not be able to do everything. To not know whats going on, to just ad-lib our way through strange days. That’s the sign of the way he chose to enter, today he needs his mum, wants simply to be warm, and loved. He is vulnerable, helpless, reliant on selfless love . This is what our lord chose to be like on the day of his birth, reliant on love helped by people who don’t really know whats happening. Not even Christ can sort it out today, not until the time is right.
That’s the sign of the manger as well. Our lord the servant king, who came to love us enough to die , who today needs to be served by Mary and Joseph and has the both the angels and the low born of society as the messengers of his good news .
The only God that fits 2020, and every year
One thought on “The sign of the Manger”
A very interesting article