Why The Manger
By Peter Larson:
Church. Lebanon , Ohio
Gospel of Luke 2:1-20
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria .) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David , because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
A few days ago, I got a call from a young couple in our church who were expecting a baby. And they told me the baby had been born – a little 8-pound boy. So I drove to the hospital to see them. And as I held that newborn baby in my arms, two things amazed me.
The first thing is that the almighty and infinite God entered our world in exactly that way – as a little child. I was overwhelmed just thinking of that. The second thing that amazed me was the place where that baby was born.
It was comfortable, clean, warm and brightly lit. It was one of those rooms they call a birthing suite, equipped with all the latest technology. It was exactly the sort of place where you'd want your baby to be born. But what struck me, as I admired that hospital room, is that Jesus was born in such a different place.
The truth is that Jesus was not born in an immaculate birthing suite, Jesus was born in a manger - a place where they feed animals.
And the question is: Why the manger?
Of all the places he could have been born, why was Jesus born in a stable and a manger? Why the manger?
You might say, “Well, it must have happened that way in order to fulfill the scriptures. Jesus was born in a manger to fulfill the prophesies in the Old Testament - that's why.” But in the Old Testament there are no prophecies like that. None of the prophets foretold that Jesus would be born in a manger.
Why the manger? You might say, “Well, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And so he was born in a place for shepherds, in a manger.” Now, it's true, that shepherds would often take shelter out in the fields, in a stable.
Usually, that place was just an underground cave. If you go to Bethlehem as a tourist…they'll show you a place like that in shepherd's field, a cave that has been used by shepherds for centuries to takes shelter from the rain and the wind. But shepherds don't live in those places. And they don't give birth in those places. Shepherds were treated as outcasts, they were the poorest of the poor but not even a shepherd would be born in a manger. Even shepherds had homes of their own that were safe and warm.
Why the manger? You might say, “Well, Peter – that's simple! Jesus was born in the manger because there was no room in the inn! It wasn't something that was planned – it was just an accident.” But in the life of Christ there were no accidents. Everything was planned, down to the last detail.
WHY the manger?
Of all the places Jesus could have been born, why the manger? I think to answer that question, first you need to go and look at a real manger and see what it's like. Six months ago, my family bought a small farm, outside of a Lebanon . And on that farm we have an old barn with a real manger, a place for feeding cattle. My wife and I grew up in the suburbs and we're city slickers, so I'd never seen a real manger. And it's been an education for me learning how to feed our cattle in that place.
If I took you tonight to visit that manger, three things would impress you.
Firstly, a manger is cold. It's a damp sort of cold that chills your right to the bones. The only heat, is the body heat of the cows, when they come in to feed and when they breathe, it makes clouds of steam, in the freezing air. It's cold in the manger.
Secondly, a manger is dark . Our manger is located underground, beneath the barn. So even when the sun is shining, it's dark in the manger.
And thirdly a manger is dirty. It's full of mud, manure, dust and cobwebs and it smells of must and mold. And as the cows eat, they slobber and drool. In the summer there are flies and spiders and insects, and swallows nesting in the rafters. There's no such thing as a clean or hygienic manger: a manger is cold, dark and dirty.
At Christmas, we tend to romanticize the manger.
We turn it into something beautiful and heavenly – a First Century birthing suite. But friend a real manger just isn't like that.
The truth is that Jesus was born in a place that was
COLD … DARK….and DIRTY.
Now, the question I put to you is: Why was Jesus born in a place like that ?, a manger that was cold, dark and dirty
I believe behind the fact of the manger, there lies a great spiritual truth.
The truth is that Jesus is always born in the manger.
Every time Jesus comes into our lives, he is born in the manger.
The human heart is like the manger, cold, dark and dirty .
The human heart is cold because we do not know the love of God.
The human heart is dark because we do not have the light of Christ or the hope of salvation.
The human heart is dirty because we are sinners and our hearts are stained and soiled by sin.
But the miracle of Christmas – the real miracle – is that Jesus is willing to be born into hearts like that!
No matter how cold your heart is, Jesus is willing to be born there. No matter how dark your heart is, Jesus is willing to be born there. No matter dirty your heart is, or how sinful your life has been, Jesus is willing to come in, enter and clean your heart.
All we need to do on our part is confess that we need him, and invite him to come into our hearts and lives.
When we do that, the wonderful miracle of that first Christmas is repeated all over again: Jesus is born again in the manger of our hearts.
Jesus meets us ALWAYS at the manger. He encounters us in that place where we feel utterly lost, hopeless and helpless.
Jesus meets us… in the darkness of our grief and sorrow .
Jesus meets us… in the blackness of our despair.
He comes into our lives when we feel unloved. unlovable and alone, when inside we feel cold and half frozen to death.
Jesus meets us …in all the mess and the filth of our sin. When we've done things that are unforgivable.
Jesus comes , to people like that, unloved, unlovable and alone
Jesus comes , to people who are just like US.
Just a few miles to the west of Lebanon we have a large prison, the Lebanon Correctional Institution .
And in that prison there's a man who committed a terrible crime. And he was convicted, and put in prison. And for many years….he was on death row. But then, they moved him to an area of the prison they call “Supermax.” What that means is super maximum security.
It's where they put prisoners who have committed the worst crimes. And what it actually is….is a prison cell within a prison cell. It's a room with steel walls inside a larger room with steel walls, and you have to go through two sets of steel doors to get in our out. Prisoners in Supermax are locked up, 24 hours a day, in solitary confinement.
The prisoner living in that cell was a black Muslim. He didn't believe in Jesus. In fact, he hated Christians. But while he was in prison, both of his parents became Christians and they joined a little church here in Ohio . And they began praying that their son would some day know Jesus Christ. A few months ago, a group of Christians went into that prison to lead a Christian retreat, called the Walk to Emmaus. And this prisoner who had been living in the super maximum security was allowed to attend the retreat. There, for the first time in his life he experienced the love of God and received Jesus Christ into his heart.
And I know that story is true, because a member of our church, Mike McIntosh, was part of the team that led that retreat. And Mike was back in the prison just a few weeks ago and met with that prisoner.
Into the heart of a Black Muslim, living in Supermax, Jesus was born. But we shouldn't be surprised by that.
Because Jesus is always born in the manger, into hearts that are dark, cold and dirty.
A few weeks ago I picked up the magazine and I read the story of Anne Rice.
Anne Rice is a famous writer and novelist. Her books have sold 50 million copies, all over the world. Most of her books deal with the occult and with vampires. She's the author of “Interview with a Vampire,”and “Queen of the Damned.” And some of her books have been turned into movies.
In this magazine article, however, it told the story of her life, how her mother died when she was still very young, and how she grew up afraid of the dark. Then she got married and gave birth to a baby girl and named her Michelle. But when the child was just a few years old she died of leukemia. Anne Rice began drinking heavily, and she sank into depression. And she began writing about vampires, because vampires are able to live forever – the possess the secret of eternal life.
Her novels brought her wealth and fame, and Anne Rice bought a big mansion in New Orleans , and entertained by holding big parties. But then, a strange thing happened. Ann Rice began reading the Bible and Christian books. And even though she hadn't been to church since she was a little girl, she felt a strange longing to take communion. And finally, in 1998, she became a believer in Jesus Christ. This is how Ann Rice describes it in her own words, she says: “The Lord came looking for me. Everywhere I turned, I found images of the Lord and his love.”
And then, three years ago, Ann Rice was sitting in church. And she decided, that she would no longer write about vampires. Describing that moment, she says: “I was in church, talking to the Lord, saying, “I want everything I do to be for you. Then It hit me: It will be for you. All of it. Every Word .”
So in her latest novel , Anne Rice wrote a book about the life of Jesus called “ Christ the Lord ” and that book was published in December. When that book came out, it rocked the publishing world. It was hard to believe that Anne Rice, the queen of the vampires, had become a believer in Jesus Christ. But you see, that should not surprise us.
Because Jesus is always born in the manger , born into hearts that are dark, cold and dirty.
No matter how cold your heart is, Jesus can be born in your heart.
No matter how dark your heart is, Jesus can be born in your heart
and fill it with his light.
No matter how dirty your heart is, Jesus can be born there and wash it clean with his forgiveness.
Jesus is always born in the manger, into hearts that are dark, cold and dirty.
The bible say's in : 1 John 1: V8-9
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness .
All you have to do, is to confess your need and INVITE him to come in, and Jesus will be born in your heart this day.
Jesus said in Rev 3:20 : Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
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