We are all familiar with the Hallmark card sanitized depiction of the manger scene. Everyone in the picture is clean, the animals are calm and poised, the shepherds are neatly arranged, staff in hand, staring at the babe, and Mary and Joseph serenely gaze into the manger which is surrounded by an aura of light.
The attention of all the characters is riveted on that crude wooden structure covered with hay and a very clean white cloth and inhabited by a quiet and content newborn. It is obvious that the central focus of all present is on Jesus.
What’s wrong with this picture?
The reality of the situation was that Mary was much younger than normally depicted, the smelly stable was dirty, and the ground was bloody. Instead of the manger built for the church play, Jesus probably was laid in a ground level feeding trough. There was no warm glow surrounding this scene.
We all understand that the more pristine artistic rendition is designed to focus on the wonder of the incarnation, not a realistic reporting of the historical event. The artistic rendering is designed to draw our eyes to baby Jesus as the central focus of the picture.
The wonder of it all!
As we reflect upon the birth of Jesus, we should be filled with wonder. That God could condescend to take on human flesh, come to earth as a baby, live a sinless life, and willingly lay down his life to accomplish redemption for his people is beyond our comprehension. The manger was the first step on the journey to the cross and on to the empty tomb. We should never tire of reflecting on the great truths of the gospel that flow from the manger.
The Ultimate Tax Holiday!
The lives of all in the scene had been interrupted by advent. The shepherds’ night shift was disrupted by the heavenly hosts. The animals were faced with some unanticipated visitors. Mary and Joseph’s journey to pay their taxes was invaded by One who would pay a debt they could never pay!
Who’s in Your Manger?
As I have been reflecting on this scene, I am forced to admit that the central focus of my life all too often is not on the One in the manger, but on me; not His kingdom, but mine; not on serving, but on being served. I am easily entrapped by the selfish and the temporal to the neglect of the eternal. In the not- so- pristine scene that is often my life, it is as if I have put myself in the manger! I want all around me to orient their focus on my comfort and delight in focusing on me (or, like the newborn, do whatever they can to keep me from crying!).
Right focus for Christmas…and everyday!
As we plunge into all the joyful, hectic, and sometimes stressful holiday season, let’s resolve to keep Jesus more central in our focus and to intentionally reflect on the wonder of the incarnation. May we never tire of the story of God become man, to redeem us and offer us eternal life.
And even in the press of the shopping center crowds, may our central focus be, not, “What’s in my wallet?” but “Who’s in my manger?”
Image courtesy of Dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net