The Manger Gertrude Käsebier 1852 – 1934
National Gallery of Art, NGO Image, Public Domain
“Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8, NIV)
The manger was full of God’s promise but only for a short time. The child who brought favor and grace was laid in the manger is a testament of God’s gift to all of the world. In some ways, we understand the manger was part of God’s way of showing the humility of Christ coming amongst us but what do we see in the empty manger?
In simple ways, we understand the Son was the gift of God’s favor and grace and yet He could not be left in the manger. The gift is found in Christ’s living and showing the Kingdom of God. This gift from God as grace was ultimately fulfilled in the giving, dying and rising again of the Son.
The manger is empty to some because people don’t realize there is a gift in the manger. They don’t understand the gift is free and available to them. Instead of reaching out for the gift, they push the gift away. Others mock the manger as empty of value and substance. Some people believe the manger is empty because the manger that held a baby for the world is just a myth and it would be foolish to believe in such a story. To others the manger is empty because the real event of God redeeming the world through His Son, is unreasonable or nonsensical and they reinvent a more appropriate story to their liking.
There are other people who would empty the manger of any significance replacing the power of Christmas with their cultural myths of goodness by believing in a magical round man in a red suit. In reality, the power to live a good life and give goodness away, comes from the goodness of God. Our goodness comes from God who gave His Son as the Living Christ through His Spirit to empower us to give His forgiveness, redemption, grace and love to those around us.
Of course the manger is empty, because my Lord and Savior didn’t stay in the manger, He went to the cross and later rose from the grave. In fact, every place where Jesus was born and lived is empty of His physical bodily form. The physical form and presence of Jesus is gone from these places and they are empty. Yet He is not gone because He has sent His presence and power through the Holy Spirit now comes in far greater ways. The stable is empty, the manger is empty, the carpenter’s shop is empty, the roads are empty, the boats are empty, the great temple is empty, the cross is empty and the tomb is empty. In the end of all matters, it is not the emptiness that has meaning but what He did in those empty places and who and where He is now. He is alive in every empty place, we may find in history and life. Without the empty cross, there is no salvation and without the empty tomb, there is no Holy Spirit. All of this emptiness is redeemed into the salvation and joy we have in the Living Savior. He is there at every empty place with the new life He gives to all who believe.
Yes, the manger is empty but the Christ that first was laid there; now fills every empty place with Himself. Come to empty manger, the empty cross and the empty tomb and you will find the Living Risen Christ. The Jesus who came first to a Bethlehem manger; emptied Himself that we might be saved. From the humble stable and manger … empty of respect and honor, He opens the door to the gifts of favor and love He brings to all who believe through His grace. It is in the emptying of Christ that we are saved and it is in the emptying of ourselves that we proclaim the Living Christ, able to redeem all emptiness in all people, for all time.
“But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7, NIV).