And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
(Luke 2:7, ESV)
What’s a manger?
A manger is a feeding trough for animals. In the first century, a manger was often made of limestone, not wood, and had an elongated, concaved depression carved into the top surface. This “bowl” could contain grain, hay and, if necessary, water for the animals. On the night Jesus was born, a manger would function as a cradle for our Savior.
Why a manger?
The birth of Jesus was no surprise to the Father. The prophet Micah had predicted it centuries earlier (Micah 5:2). If God had wanted His Son to be born and laid in a bed in the best house in Bethlehem, or in a house belonging to a descendant of David, that would have been no problem for our God. But He arranged the birth of His Son so that a stable with a manger was the chosen place.
Such a stable would surely have been soiled by animals. The manger would not be sanitized as required for our hospital bassinets. A manger emphasized the lack of pageantry for the coming of Jesus. He was not born in the customs and the palace of a king. Our Savior was born in simplicity—a baby wrapped in cloths and put into a manger—and lived in humility.
The manger also functioned as an unexpected, unique sign to the shepherds: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). And so this sign was fulfilled when the shepherds came “with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger” (2:16).
It was about the One born in a stable and laid in a manger that the angels declared: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (2:11).
This Christmas, as we celebrate, may we also take a moment to remember that Jesus came in humility and without fanfare to be our Savior. And thank Him.