Scholars read Luke’s simple account of our Savior’s birth and get hung up on the word “manger.” Where was that manger? In a stable, as traditionally thought? Many now insist that Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem for the countryside, where Jesus was born in a cave. Entire books have been written on the subject! And the debate continues to rage.
Fascination with the location of Christ’s birth is nothing new. Helena, the mother of Constantine, built a church on the presumed site of the nativity. Later, Justinian built another church on the same spot. That church stands to this day, and countless pilgrims have carefully navigated their way down the interior steps on either side of the altar. Why? These steps lead to a cave below where “the precise birthplace of Jesus” is indicated by a star. But is that really the spot? Who knows? When all is said and done, the place is not important. Otherwise, Luke would have mapped out the stable with such divine GPS precision that no one could miss it.
What is important? Strip away everything else from the Christmas account and focus only on this! "And she gave birth to her firstborn son." No event in the history of the world has been so celebrated in word and song as the birth of Jesus Christ! Yet Luke uses just seven simple words in the Greek for his completely undramatic recording of the event. All Luke tells us is that Mary gave birth to a tiny baby boy.
It was a natural birth of a most natural-looking and sounding tiny baby boy. So humble and quiet was Christ's birth, wrapped as he was in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, that no one noticed it in the major metropolitan areas of the globe. That night passed as any other in Rome, or Athens, or in near-by Jerusalem, or even in Bethlehem itself where most ignored the blessed event.
And yet, because God’s Spirit has worked faith in your heart and mine, we cannot ignore what happened in that stable that night. For when Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son,” God was made man! The Creator was held in the arms of the created, his mother Mary!
This was a miracle so unprecedented that an angel outside Bethlehem couldn’t help but herald the event to lowly shepherds: “Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy, which will be for all people: Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you. He is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
We can’t know for sure the precise location of the manger where Jesus slept that first Christmas night. But praise God we know this! Jesus is our Savior! The Christ--the Chosen, Promised One! Our Lord! He came to be with us, not against us! Our Immanuel! (Matthew 1:23, John 1:1, 14, Colossians 2:9)
This is what makes Christmas so precious. This is still the very best Good News of Great Joy!
Rev. Glenn Schwanke