By Skip Heitzig
A few years ago my Mom gave me the Nativity scene that was in our house when I was a kid. It evoked wonder in my early years, and it’s still wonderful, but there’s something not quite right about it. For one thing, the figure of Jesus looks more like a two year old than an infant. For another, He has blond hair and blue eyes—and from what I know of the Middle East, I have kind of a problem with that. Obviously, this Nativity set was crafted by a European!
And the manger is made out of wood. Of course, that’s how most of us think of it. But the word in the Bible translated “manger” could mean either a feeding trough or an enclosure for animals. In that part of the world animals were kept in caves, and feeding troughs were made out of stone, so Jesus was probably born in a cave around Bethlehem somewhere, and laid in a stone trough.
Now, I know I’ve probably destroyed a lot of your mental pictures of Jesus’ birth. But the important question is “Why a manger?” Why wasn’t He born in a palace, and His birth heralded in the Jerusalem Post?
The answer is in two words, humility and accessibility. His mother wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, like any peasant of the time. This great gift came in simple wrapping. The one who would be called “Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6)—the Creator—became an embryo, and then a baby. It’s amazing, and the more you think about it, the more staggering it becomes. This humility would depict His entire life and ministry. And when He died He was buried in a borrowed grave, another cave similar to the one He was born in.
Because He was humble, He was accessible. Going into a throne room to see a king would be intimidating, but there’s nothing intimidating about going into a cave and approaching a feeding trough. You don’t need special credentials, you don’t need to have to have an appointment. The shepherds could just come in.
And again, this marked not only His birth but His entire life. Jesus was always accessible to people. He said, “Let the little children come to Me” (Matthew 19:14). He also welcomed the woman with the incurable disease because of her faith (Luke 8:43–48).
So it’s not really important what your Nativity scene looks like. The important thing is what you think about the Child who was laid in that manger. In the words of an old Christmas carol, “Infant holy, infant lowly, for his bed a cattle stall; oxen lowing, little knowing, Christ the babe is Lord of all.”