Away in a Manger

Introduction

Reading in history of the birtbs of significant people gioves you a very helpful perspective. You learn that in the midst of childbirth, every person is reduced to a mere mortal. No matter who that person is, they become subject to the same uncertainties, worries, and risks as all other fathers and mothers. Modern medicine may hav egiven us life-saving advancements and significant improvements in comfort, but birth today seems to be the great equalizer.

I remember organizing my makeshift bed in the hospital room, trying to get my things out of the way when nurses started getting the room ready. All of a sudden things seemed to be in motion and wrongly getting faster. There was no more prolonging it, our first daughter Jennifer would be born. All of the risks of labor and delivery were here and soon whatever would come of her birth would be. As a father, all I really could do was watch and let my wife know I was there with her. And mercifully, after only a few “pushes” from a strong mother, Jen was here.

In that hospital, in a profound way, all of us become mere mortals. Birth has a way of humbling us.

Jesus humbled Himself to be born in a shameful way.

I believe we all have a problem when it comes to Christ humbling Himself, and that is this: in order for me understand how far Christ lowered Himself, I must first understand where He started. I can’t understand what Jesus sacrificed for me if I do not understand what He actually had.  For Christ to lower Himself, He had to start at a higher point and then bring Himself to a lower one. How can I understand the delta or the difference if I never understood what the starting point?

Christ’s coming to this world to become a man is the greatest humiliation of all time. We must understand the gravity of what it means for God the Son to become a man because this is the ultimate example of humility. Yet, I think we have great difficulty in truly appreciating what it means for Jesus to humble Himself.

1. Not thinking enough of Jesus - The Reality of HIs Greatness

2. Thinking too much of ourselves - The Reality of Our Smallness

But these are two sides of the same coins for us in the modern western world. If I don't think enough of Jesus, if I don't truly understand the depth of His glory and I don't deem Him worthy with my choices, valuing the gratification of our sinful desires more than the worship of Christ, then what else fills the vacuum of my thoughts and focus? Myself.

And by the same token, if all I think about is myself, if my life is about what suits me, what best benefits me, how I can be my true self and live out my potential, then how can my life be about the all surpassing glory of Jesus?

But the Scriptures cause us to take our eyes off ourselves and see Jesus for Who He truly is. As we have journeyed through carols that sing of Old Testament prophecy over the past couple weeks, I hope it has become clear to you that all of the Bible, and not just that, all of history looked toward the coming of Christ. What I mean is this, I hope you have seen everything is all about Him.

The world has been waiting for someone or something to just make it all make sense. We ask the big questions of why. We want the pain and loss we experience to mean something. We want our accomplishments and work to mean something. And the answer God gives us in the Scriptures is that it is all about Jesus Christ the Son of God.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. Colossians 1:15-18

A couple weeks back, our life group went to see Handel's Messiah performed by the choir department at NDSU. It was a beautiful program and we thoroughly enjoyed it. The Messiah is a musical composition that puts beautiful passages of Scripture about Jesus to music. These college students, faculty, and other performers used their talents to sing of the glory of the Lord being revealed, His reign being forever and ever, and the coming Day of the Lord when He will righteously judge all. I couldn't help but wonder if some of these people understood what they were singing. I was overcome with the weight of who Christ is, but did those singing the words of Truth even understand? Surely, at a secular university, there are students in the choir department who do not know Jesus Christ or believe He is Lord. Yet, all sang. They sang the Truths of Christology without  actually practicing them. I thought, how often do I sing these Truths and not mean them? The answer: too often.

May we as a church family commit not just to maintaining the right doctrines and singing the right kinds of songs, but also may we deem Him worthy, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords in our lives.

For us to even start to begin to understand the significance of Jesus’ condescension to become a human being, we have to see Him for Who He truly is.

With this framework in our minds, we can look at not just how humiliating even becoming a man was, but how humiliating the circumstances of His birth actually were.

Let’s talk about the infamous phrase “There was no room for them in the inn.” What does that mean? Well, of course we have the traditional English thought based on the word “inn” that they were essentially looking for a room to stay in at an establishment that provides lodging. Most of mostly use the word hotel or motel to describe this concept today. Although we have inns still too.

So we have this picture of Mary and Joseph going to an inn, and being refused at the door because there was no vacancy. The inn keeper says through the crack in the door, “No room!”

While this MAY have been the case, I think there is a more likely explanation, and it has to do with where they were and the cultural tendencies of the day. Joseph was going back to essentially where his family was from for a census. Not only that, the family structure was what people relied on in society more than anything. If you ever needed a place to stay, most likely you would seek help from your family (we often still do this today, but the cultural interdependence of families was even more pronounced). Based on the fact that Joseph was going home, and that he would have likely first (and maybe exclusively) sought help from family, I believe that his family turned him away.

The word which is translated into “inn” in most English versions of this verse could actually mean “guest room” like it does in other parts of the New Testament.

Why would they do this? Because Jesus was known to have been perceived as an illegitimate son of Mary and Joseph, conceived before their marriage. This would have been a shame to their family, and the family very well may have turned them away from their guest room, but feeling sorry for their family provided a room for animals instead.

Why does this matter? Because regardless of how you interpret this passage, the truth remains from the testimony of Scripture, Jesus lived with the reputation of being an illegitimate son, the stigma of which was far greater in ancient Judea and Galilee than it is today.  Whether or not you think you should cast an inn keeper in the Nativity pageant, we must all understand something, Jesus came to this earth in a shameful and lowly way. He embraced that because of His humility. Born in a room for animals, laid in a trough, because He was too shameful for His family to take proper care of Him.

May we embrace humility, bringing ourselves low, as our ultimate example did.

The King of Kings depended upon a mother.

The Lord of Glory became a fragile newborn.

And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, Luke 2:7a

The God of the universe willingly depended upon HIs creation. One of the attributes of God is summed up in this phrase God’s self-existence.

It refers to the Christian belief that God does not depend on any cause other than himself for his existence, realization, or end, and has within himself his own reason of existence. This represents God as absolutely independent and self-existent by nature.

Yet, can you imagine a more dependent creature than an infant? Stop and meditate on that for a second. The One by Whom all things hold together and the one for Whom all things were made became utterly dependent upon a sinful person for food, for warmth, to have His diaper changed.

Some of us understand the humiliation of this quite well. Do you like to be dependent on others? Is accepting help or care difficult for you?

In the United States especially, and this was even more true of previous generations, independence and self-reliance were some of the most prominent virtues. But are these Christian virtues? There certainly is something to fortitude (doing hard things) and diligence (hard work) but when we look at the life of the church in the New Testament, we do not find an emphasis on “pulling yourself up by your boot straps.”

Over and over, we find the phrase “one another.” We find submit to one another, care for one another, bear one another’s burdens. I want to make this clear, what we find is mutuality, or inter-dependence. Mutuality means that which is experienced or done by each of two or more parties toward the other or others. As in I do this to you and you do the same to me. For some of us, it is easy to care for others. It is easy to bear another’s burden. We like feeling strong, but to let others serve us, to allow ourselves to rely on others is very difficult.

Yet Christ, to accomplish His mission became the most dependent kind person in humanity. You might say, well, I don’t NEED this. It should go to someone that needs it. I don’t want to be a burden. Did the one who molecularly designed redwood trees need the food Mary gave Him? Did the One who shaped the Sun need to be wrapped in a cloth to keep warm? What mattered was not what He needed, but what we needed. And sometimes, we need to recognize that others need to be a blessing to us. Others need to care for us. Others need to bear our burdens. And I think when we will obey God in this area, we’ll realize there were ways that we needed those things too.

Humility means leaving comfort or familiarity.

But made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. Philippians 2:7

Jesus left behind that which was easy or convenient to Him. He decided that that didn’t matter. He didn’t matter. His comfort zone did not matter. What mattered was His mission. He had a mission from God.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45

What are the comfort zones that you need to forsake to be able to serve others? For many of us, it means entering into uncomfortable social settings, but all of us must do this.

If we are going to be a church that serves one another and builds each other up, we must have the same kind of humility that Jesus did. If we will build the kind of mentoring relationships that the New Testament describes, we have to be willing to put ourselves out there. It takes humility to truly reach out.

Christians are meant to live together, to share their lives together in Christ. We are supposed to be challenging each other to really grow in holiness and Christlikeness. We are supposed to hold one another up and bear one another’s burdens, and for some of us, this means really stepping out of our comfort zone. Leaving the comfortable or familiar for our mission.

“You don’t get it. It’s easy for you. It’s your job.” Well, first of all, don’t assume! I live in a house with a very congenial wife. You want to talk about a bubbly personality and a people person! But I am not asking anyone to be me. I am not asking anyone to be me or to be anyone else. I am telling you that God is asking you to be obedient, to reach out to the people in your circle. For you to take your next steps in following Christ in humility, being willing to leave your comfort zone for the sake of the Gospel, whatever that may be. Maybe your comfort zone is being the center of attention.

To go to the manger, Jesus had to leave what was easy.

Humility means putting others before yourself.

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3–4

In Philippians 2, Paul is addressing a church. He is helping them to have a Christlike mindset in how they approach life together in the church. Their humility is to cause them to be mindful of others and their needs, before they are mindful of their own. Christ had to value our needs than His own to go to the manger.

Paul teaches the Philippians that only when they have this others-focused mindset that they can have unity as a church. Only then can they have the same mind. But how often do we have division in church, amongst brothers and sisters because of selfish ambition and conceit? Relationships become strained, spiritual growth is stunted, because rather than making it about Christ and HIs mission. Rather than making it about others and serving them, we make it about ourselves.

Humility means submitting your will to God's will.

And to connect these thoughts together, we have this idea that Jesus’ mission was top priority, not because it was His will, but because His Father’s will.

The concept of “will” or “desire” is an interesting thing. Can you choose to do something  that you do not want to do?

A good example is brushing your teeth. Some of us probably love brushing our teeth, but not all of us. Yet we all value the benefits of brushing our teeth. We don’t want the consequences of failing to do so, and we desire to avoid those consequences more than we desire to avoid the work of brushing our teeth. This simple example shows us this truth: we must do things that parts of us do not want to do. We know what it means to submit one desire to another. We must submit our will (our desires) to God’s desires.

For Christ to come to the manger, He had to submit His desires (or His will) to the Father's.

Conclusion

What is your manger? Where is God calling you to go in taking your next steps in following Him?

May the birth of Christ have a way of humbling us.

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