I was walking around the mall near the theater I used to run the projection booth for a few years back, and I happened to pass by a display of “musician” snowmen outside of a Walmart store. They were all gaily dressed, of course, and holding various instruments. As I walked by, they struck up what sounded like a dixieland version of “Away in a Manger.” Couldn’t believe it for a minute.
And not even singing snowmen—God forbid you should hear the name of Jesus spoken in a shopping mall. I mean, even greetings and thanks usually have the non-offensive and politically correct “Happy Holidays”
added as a tag-line.
What are people celebrating? Three cheers for capitalism? How Much Can You Buy day?
I found a picture not long ago on Google images of a 1st century manger, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. It was made of roughly hewn stone that looked like it would have been really cold. There was no straw sticking up, but there was a little dirty water in the bottom. Usually, you’ll see a smartly built wooden cradle in most nativities. You’ll see some clean straw poking out the ends, or maybe a roughly sewn blanket or piece of cloth. There will be a few animals standing idly by, and several people gazing raptly down at the manger (and I won’t even mention the fact that the “wise men” did not come along while Jesus was actually in the manger–oh, wait. I guess I just mentioned it).
Anyway, it kind of bothers me that Christmas to many has become little more than a series of stock images and a few pretty songs that only get the dust blown off them once a year, for a few weeks at most. Or maybe it’s little more than a time to eat too much and exchange brightly colored packages, sit in a church, and feel a little better about yourself for a few days (we just watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” the other day, and if you haven’t seen it, or seen it in a while, Linus really nails what Christmas is all about”. But as usual, I digress…
I imagine Joseph was probably thinking it wouldn’t be a problem to find some place for them to stay—just for the night—in a one donkey town like Bethlehem. Somewhere for his young wife to give birth in. And it has always seemed to me the Innkeeper could have at least made some small accommodation for them, even if it was just clearing out a corner in a storeroom.
It could be that he was running around the Bethlehem Inn like a lunatic, trying to keep everyone’s cup full, and couldn’t be bothered to help out what probably looked like a poor couple on a donkey (I imagine him like Thenardier is Les Miserables). But the Bible tells us nothing about him, not even his name. And it occurred to me that his name doesn’t matter. He’s the just like a great many people this time of year—certainly me at times—In that I sometimes struggle to make room for Christ.
Anyway, when I hear that song, I always get stuck on the first line.
“away in a manger, no crib for a bed…”
The Light of the World in a cold stone feed trough. Lying under the stars He created. Sometimes I wonder if even then he was aware of what lie ahead. He was an infant
“Holy infant so tender and mild…”
but he was also Lord. Was he thinking of Calvary, and a Roman Cross? No way to know, and when you think about it, it doesn’t much matter. What matters is that He was born.
To understand why, I think you have to consider the difference between Grace and Mercy. As most believers know, the wages of sin is death. No way around that. As payment for our sins, God demands a death sentence.
His mercy could have pardoned us, our sins still evident and the payment still demanded, but unfulfilled because of His forgiving nature. And we would still have death hanging over us like a sword. But because of Grace, we do not.
Because of Grace, He was born in Bethlehem on that day, and 33 years later walked the Via Dolorosa. Because of that walk, because of His sacrifice in place of our own deaths, because of His assumption of our sin, the debt to God is paid in full, by Jesus, and that sword is gone, our sins forgiven rather than just pardoned.
They no longer exist.
And consider the fifth verse:
“Be near me, Lord Jesus,
I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever
And love me I pray…”
Not really a need to explain that further, other than to say this is what we strive for, hope for, and pray for. To be near Him, and for Him to be near us.
Anyway, I’m just going to go ahead and out myself as a geek and say that’s one of my favorite Christmas songs, all complaining aside—especially now that I’m able to sing them, and realize them for what they really are—the ultimate praise songs.
And now, time to go. I’m going to go help my son get his night vision goggles going, and then we’re going to get ready for church. I love Christmas.
I hope yours is shaping up to be as good as mine…
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!