In the song “Away in a Manger,” that word “manger” gets glossed over. A lot. We see pictures of nativity scenes of the baby Jesus, perfectly swaddled, of course, in this finely crafted wooden container—like a miniature crib—which, by the way, happens to fit his little body perfectly.
But in reality, the manger wasn’t made of wood at all. It was more than likely hard, cold stone. Now certainly Mary and Joseph would have tried to add a little bit of cushion by throwing in some soft materials—maybe a little bit of hay, some clothing, a blanket. But this little box, probably carved out of limestone—used mostly for animals’ drinking water, occasionally used for food—this manger was no place for a newborn.
This is what makes what the angels said to the shepherds so significant. In Luke 2:11, they tell the shepherds: Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
And we can be sure the shepherds believed the angels. The message they sent wasn’t in doubt. After all, if an angel from heaven told you something, wouldn’t YOU believe it? But there were other little babies in Bethlehem. And this birth wasn’t posted on social media. So how in the world were they supposed to know WHICH baby was the Messiah? They tell them:
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.
And there’s the word that makes no sense in the context of a baby being born—manger. A baby has NO business being in a manger. It would be like saying today, “You’ll find the baby wrapped in some towels on a farm in this particular small town in Georgia, in the barn, under a heat lamp where the chickens stay warm.” We’d NEVER think to look for a baby there. But that’s exactly how the shepherds would know they found the right one.
The manger is out of place… except for two things… one we already mentioned. It made it very clear to the shepherds where the baby was. But secondly, Jesus came into this world modeling something he would pass on to all his followers: When we follow Jesus, we follow someone who deserved BETTER, but focused on making life better for everyone ELSE. He never diminished himself or lacked confidence; he just spent more of his energy focused on how he could serve and ultimately give his life away for the sake of others.
And the word for that is “humility.” He was born in the most humble of circumstances, and he lived his life in a way that prioritized others. Did he deserve better circumstances regarding where he was born? Sure. Did he deserve better treatment as an adult? Of course. But like Jesus, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can shift our attention away from what we think we deserve and more on how we can give our lives away for others.
Heavenly Father, help me treat others the way you have treated me through Christ. Amen.View all Songs
Away in a manger, No crib for a bed