A Manger Invitation: Finding our place near Jesus.
The story of Jesus coming is a story of two teenagers who had been through so much leading up to the manger.
Mary, a young girl, some scholars even estimate as young as 12, was visited by an angel and told that she would be pregnant with, “The Son of the Most High…His Kingdom will never end.” (Luke 1:31-32)
Of course this news would be interesting to convey to your family and future husband.
“Hey Joseph. So an Angel visited me last night. The Angel said I was pregnant with the Son of God, you know the Messiah we have been waiting on…”
(insert cricket sounds)
Joseph is certainly let down. Calling off an arranged marriage would’ve ruined the plan that had been laid out before them; a plan that could’ve been determined when they were infants. Even more this would’ve been a huge let down to their families who had expectations for their teenage children.
Mary’s family, friends, and community at the very least were disappointed in her. What an extremely heavy weight to carry. People looking at you like a whore, when you have been chosen by God for something altogether unique.
Mary probably felt shunned, even disowned.
She knew the reality of the situation, the angel had revealed that to her; yet her existence was beginning to look very different than it ever had before.
Even Joseph is going to divorce her, but at least he is going to do it in quiet instead of public.
And this choice to divorce Mary quietly, or without cause, would’ve cost Joseph. To divorce without cause came with all kinds of implications. Dowry exchange returned, and even in some cases a 50 shekel payment to the woman you are divorcing. Joseph incurs all the consequence, yet he decides to pay the cost to divorce her quietly instead of exposing further her shame.
What we don’t hear about are the awkward conversations between the parents of Mary and Joseph, the ones who arranged this whole marriage. If Joseph is calling this off, then they are involved as well.
It is at this point that the original Maury Povich show probably ensued. The shame of Mary is shielded because of Joseph’s choice to do things quietly, but the pregnancy is still without a father and Mary’s explanation is not answering the many questions that surround her.
And so Mary goes to visit her relative Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is pregnant and that is a supernatural story in and of itself.
Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth, was visited by an angel. The angel told him that he was going to have a son, and his son was going prepare the way for the Lord.
Zechariah responds by saying that he is old and his wife is old. Standing in the presence of an Angel Zechariah gets caught up in the details asking, “How can I be sure of this?”
It is probably important to note that Zechariah is a priest. If anyone would’ve been open to a miracle you would think it would’ve been him.
The angel brings this beautiful Good News that Zechariah is going to partner with God in this profound and amazing way, yet Zechariah is worried about details. This doesn’t work for the angel.
But God doesn’t change the plan or go use another person. Instead, the Angel silences Zechariah until the birth of the child.
So Mary is searching for comfort, and it is likely that Elizabeth is searching for conversation since her husband has been silent for six or so months. Although she might be happy about her husband being silenced, after all he did call her old.
Elizabeth greets Mary as she arrives and the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps. She looks at her and recognizes the supernatural nature of what is going on. At this point Mary had been misunderstood by her family, community, and future husband, but Elizabeth believed. Surely this gave Mary some much needed companionship to discuss the scary details of pregnancy as a young teenager.
Mary spends 3 months with Elizabeth. You would’ve thought that Mary was relocating. Maybe searching for a fresh start with older relatives who could guide her as she cared for their needs and even became a nanny of sorts for their child that was on the way. If she stayed it would’ve been a good set up for both of them; Mary escapes some of her shame, and Zechariah and Elizabeth gain another, younger, set of hands.
But Mary heads back. Why?
We are told that Joseph encounters an Angel as well.
This Angel tells Joseph to take Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus.
Why name the child Jesus?
Jesus is the Greek form of the name Joshua. Joshua is an Old Testament character and his name translates, “The Lord Saves.” The Angel is saying, name the child “The Lord Saves.”
Joseph is starting to see that there really is something supernatural taking place. Mary wasn’t lying.
Joseph and Mary both would’ve been fully aware of the prophecies about a Messiah. Prophecies like this one from Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
Immanuel means “God With Us.” This is a rare and unique time that is being ushered in. It was back in the Garden of Eden that God walked with Adam and Eve and was with us. But this is altogether different from that, because God is becoming man. A plot twist indeed.
And who is entrusted to take care of this God man child and see this plot twist through? Teenagers!
Joseph took Mary as his wife. And a few months later they find themselves terrified yet full of joy and hope, as they are delivering a child in the most unlikely of delivery rooms; a place where animals reside.
When we reflect on the manger today we reflect on the chaos that it was for the characters leading up to the birth of Jesus.
The manger alone is a reflection of two children being shunned by family in an unfamiliar city as they carry the weight of the great unknown, and finding no place except the place of animals.
The King of Kings is born to two teenagers, not an established King and Queen.
The Savior of the world is born in a manger next to animals, not in a clean and tidy palace.
And this is the reminder we need this Christmas.
God meets us in our lowest places. God became man for the purpose of communing with His creation at the margins.
From a humble wooden manger to a tortuous wooden cross, sacrifice is the echo of the Kingdom.
So as we draw our attention to the manger, may we remember that the manger is for all of us.
Mary and Joseph: The middle class teenagers who would’ve been considered religiously elite since they came from the bloodline of David; even more Mary being of the Priestly class.
The Wisemen: The upper class elders who followed a light in the darkness to find the Messiah.
Shepherds: The lower class and criminals who were likely cut off from society and forced to work in the fields.
They all gather around Jesus.
The powerful picture of the nativity is in the manger, but it is also in those surrounding it.
It is a reminder that grace is for all through Jesus.
Not just the rich. Not just the poor.
Not just the faithful, but even the criminal.
Not just the religious, but those far from God.
The love of Jesus breaks down every barrier when coming in flesh.
So we celebrate in this season a limitless grace that still lives today. We are being invited to gather around the manger. To experience grace on a whole new level; a “God with us” level.
May you find a light in the darkness that guides your journey closer and closer to Jesus.
May you come to the manger filled with hope, and full of the expectation that grace can cover even your darkest parts.
May you come to know that love has no boundaries, and may you celebrate this reality today, this reality we have come to know as Christmas.