Every year during Advent, my son Jonah memorizes part of Luke 2, the same passage that Linus recites to Charlie Brown in response to the question, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” It’s adorable. But if you take a moment, I think you’ll agree it’s also a really strange passage.
Yes, I realize it’s a true story that features the Son of God being born of a virgin. That makes it unique in its own right. But the part that trips me up every time I hear my son recite the passage is when the angel says to the shepherds, “This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).
A manger is a feeding trough for animals—sheep, donkeys, goats, and the like. So to put the situation in a more modern, industrialized context, finding a baby in a manger would be like visiting a friend who had just had a baby and discovering that her newborn is fast asleep in the dog’s food bowl on the kitchen floor. Unthinkable, right? But this was the “sign” that God had for the shepherds, the first people to visit the newborn King of kings.
Knowing how the rest of the gospel story goes, the manger is actually a perfectly fitting, makeshift cradle for Jesus. What is placed in a manger is food for sheep. It is broken in order to give life, sustaining those who partake. When I remember this, I can’t help but think of what Jesus would say years later, when He took a piece of bread from dinner on the night He was betrayed and broke it: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
The story of Christmas only finds its full meaning in the story of Easter. We gather together, and we sing the familiar words from our favorite Christmas carols, but “the thrill of hope” is only ours because of what Christ came to earth to do. The “weary world” only has cause to rejoice because Jesus came to save people from their sins: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This is the reason that the angel’s announcement to the shepherds was good news. “Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11), they were told, though they could not have known that in the shadow of the manger stood the cross.
Today of all days, take a moment to reflect on the strangeness of the Son of God napping in a feeding trough, but when you do, also remember what a strange thing it is that the King of glory laid down His life, willingly submitting to the torture of the cross, so that you and I could have eternal life. It is indeed strange and unexpected, but it is the reason we celebrate. It is the gift bigger than all others.
Written by John Greco