The Empty Manger



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).


He came for everyone!


“You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9, NLT).

      There is an incredibly powerful reality in the coming of our Savior to the earth to redeem the peoples of the world. It is what we truly celebrate in the Christmas season and is the joy of our salvation. It is incredible, that the Christ who existed and reigned in heaven would be willing to come to earth to redeem a world lost in sin and self-centeredness. It took the ultimate sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son to reach to the lowest realms of wickedness, lifting any and all who would believe in Him to the heights of heaven and eternity. It is a reach beyond our comprehension as the Holy God moves beyond every dominion of human sinfulness and every other power of heaven and earth to love and save us by His favor and grace.

God’s love reaches to the lowest places. His love reaches to the fatherless, the poor, the outcast, the forgotten, the lonely, the neglected, the brokenhearted, the miserable, the used and misused, and even to the cynical and the prodigals. His love is truly incomprehensible in its reach to all those who are hurt and damaged by sin. Sin attacks all good and all virtue, maiming people and their relationships, but our salvation in Christ redeems pain and brokenness. No one on this earth ever escapes the damage and stain of sin and because of this common fallen state; we all need a Savior. We are all in a lowly place and since our Christ comes to all of us in our lowly condition, no one or no damage is ever out of the reach of His love.

This powerful reality of Christ giving up His heavenly place and coming to redeem the world, even coming to the lowest in the lowliest of places is born out in the tangible and physical aspects of the Incarnation and birth of Jesus. Jesus was not born in a palace. The rich and powerful religious and political classes do not even notice His birth nor were they invited. The proclamation of His birth, which bursts from the heavens with such glorious excitement is not seen or witnessed by royalty but rather by members of one of the lowliest and common of all occupations. Shepherds were not respected and were disregarded as ceremonially un-clean and unwelcome worshipers in the synagogues and in the Jewish Temple. It was to these poor and lowly caretakers of the flocks in the fields, that the heavens were opened with the shattering announcement that God’s favor and peace had come to the world. They were the first to worship the new born King. In their humble worship, we see that the lowliest are remembered and would be redeemed by the heavenly Son, now born into the world.

What does all this mean to each of us? How does the mighty reach of Christ to the poor and lowly, translate into joy in our lives? Joy comes as His redemptive love reaches all of us. He comes to every place. He comes to every way that we have failed and covers all the sin of our lives. It means there will never be a lowly place where His presence will not be with us through His Holy Spirit. He will always come, never abandoning us in the low points of our lives. He comes, lifting us up from the places of pain and suffering and giving us His peace. Christ coming to the lowly … means nothing can separate us from His love as we believe and follow our Savior. The coming of Christ; is real joy to the whole world. To the lowly, Christ will always come. Thus no one is beyond the reach of God’s love through the grace of Jesus Christ. His coming to be born in the lowly manger was the first moment of His coming to the lowly but it was only the beginning of the incomprehensible myriad of times Christ will come, again and again through His death and resurrection to save the world. The message of the birth of Christ is simple … Jesus comes to save and give life, now and forever. Thanks, be to God.

Thought and Scripture Reading … God’s generosity towards us, should move us to be generous. 2 Corinthians 8 & 9

The Incarnation (God’s gift to the world)

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26-27, ESV).

      She was a young girl, a virgin when the angel appeared to her. She wonders about the details of the child that she was to carry and asks how this “Son of the Most High” will come in her body but she accepts in perfect trust the assurances of the Word delivered by an angel. What is remarkable about her response; is the fact that her simple trusting faith is drastically different then the response of Zachariah the father of John the Baptist on his visit by an angel recorded just earlier in the same gospel. Zachariah doubts. Mary believes. Mary asks, “How will this be …” and Zachariah asks, “How shall I know this?” Mary looks ahead with an expectation and wonder at God’s power while Zachariah looks at the impossibility of the event happening given the circumstances. Mary was not a religious priest but her faith dwarfs Zachariah’s lack of belief even if he seems the more the logical choice of the exemplar. Zachariah is quieted of all possible speech by the hand of God while Mary by answering, “Behold I am a servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” is noted for her faith. A living faith in a mighty God that would evidence itself a short time later in her beautiful and powerful proclamation, recorded for the ages as “The Magnificat.” Joseph was unsure in response to his situation with Mary, but after his encounter with an angel, he simply does what the angel directed him to do. Elizabeth gives direct credit to God for His favor when she realizes a miracle has happened. What do these interactions between the realms of God’s provision of sovereign grace and those He wishes to involve in the implementation of His plan, bring to the Christmas story? What are the lessons of the contrasts in faith that we see here in the lives of Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zachariah?
God’s divine incarnation plan which is sometimes called “The Christmas Story” with all its twists and turns; radiates the power of grace in coming to earth. God’s grace cannot be held up by the lack of faith in any one of the participants or by any other action or inaction. Since God is the Creator of the universe … all that is created, including all the human beings and all nations is melded and used in His graceful purposes in redeeming the world. God can use the accepting or the unbelieving and even the hostile to bring about His purposes. On the other hand; that Mary is chosen shows God’s omniscient knowledge as to His intimate familiarity of all His children. Mary was specially chosen for a role of honor by God Himself. Still the story is not about the people such as Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth and Zachariah but the incarnation event of God coming in human form that brings salvation.

It was this great event, the birth of Jesus coming as a baby in whom God delivered His only begotten Son in a fullness of grace unseen before on the created earth, that the world would find salvation and life. God’s amazing grace would lead to the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ to redeem all sinners who would believe in Him. He came for those that might doubt at first, those that believe in an instant and for those who had waited for centuries for their salvation to come as a Messiah for all nations. In the Incarnation, God delivers in the presence of His Son, the fulfilled promise of favor, peace and grace as a gift to all of creation. We often talk of how Jesus freely offers salvation to the poor or the rich but the inclusiveness of the gospel extends beyond monetary conditions or social classes to include all persons for all time. No one is left out. Anyone who believes and would desire the gift found in the Christmas story will not be excluded from salvation through the Son. The gift is the Son and in the Son is the salvation of the world. The salvation of the world is the real message in the event that happened so long ago in a stable in the town of Bethlehem so long ago.

“For nothing will be impossible with God …” (Luke 1:37, ESV).

Suggested Reading … Luke 1 & 2

Name above all names …


“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NKJV).

         As we reflect in this season on the coming of the Christ child we encounter an array of names, prophecies and paradoxical events set in some contradictory places. If we just look at the name of this child who is promised both to Mary and Joseph by divine message carried by angels we start to see the some of the names that this favored child would be called. The angel Gabriel speaks to Mary and tells her that she will bear a son after the Holy Spirit comes on her, and he will be called “Jesus.” He will be great and shall be called the “Son of the Most High” reigning over the throne of David and house of Jacob and his kingdom shall have no end (Luke 1:28-35). An angel who is unnamed comes to Joseph in a dream as he struggles with a dilemma over what to do with Mary, the woman to whom he was engaged to, that was with child by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is told to fear not and to name this son “Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” This is a fulfillment to prophecy as to child being born that shall be called “Immanuel which means ‘God is with us’ ” (Matthew 1:18-25).

Before this child is even born many names are upon him. In addition this child would certainly as soon as he was born be called “Jesus son of Joseph” or “Yeshua ben Yosef” which is the Jewish tradition as well. The name of Jesus is the Greek form of the name Yeshua which is better known as the English word Joshua which means “salvation or ‘the LORD saves’ ” which Matthew directly refers to (Mt. 1:21). He will later be acknowledged as “the Christ” which is the Messiah that all of Israel for has waited centuries to come and deliver them and become their Messiah King and the Messiah to the world because of God’s great love. As he is later crucified be mockingly labeled by the sign on the cross as the “King of the Jews” in three languages (John 19:20). In addition to these names, there are many other titles and descriptions given to Jesus Christ, from Wonderful Counselor, Shepherd and Saviour.

In the countless languages of the world, Jesus Christ is translated into many names and He alone is our salvation as God coming in the flesh, much more than a man because a man cannot save the world. Only God could save us by coming as one of us to save us. Jesus was eternal God (The Word) and now He came to save us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and this is the only way that salvation could come to a fallen world (John 1:14). His love and faithfulness allowed Jesus Christ to be the “Lamb of God” and only He can take away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

It wasn’t just His name that took away our sins. It was the person He was, and is and is to come. Our praise, thankfulness and worship begin at the manger but they must include our repentance at the cross and the living celebration of the same Spirit in us that raised Christ from the dead. We rejoice in the coming among us, of God in Jesus Christ during this Christmas season even as we await our living with the glorious King of Kings for eternity. It is really quite a gift to us that was first promised to Mary and Joseph and was born in a stable. Hallelujah, what a gift of “peace and favor.” Hallelujah, what a Savior!

The Christ Child who came for us …

Xmas 2014 -2

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; for those that live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine” (Isaiah 9:2, NLT )

It could be said that the world at the time of Jesus was a time that mighty nation of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem had lost their way. They were having a hard time understanding that Jesus was the Messiah and he could release them from their bondage under a foreign government. The past was troubled and there were few possibilities of hope with many frustrations all around them. The difficulties of their lives were ever present and the answers were ever illusive. They were stumbling in the darkness of their understanding and unaware that their feeling of heaviness came from their own sinful pride. It might be said even today: we cannot understand all there is to life, as we struggle with the weight of the past, the difficulties of the present and the uncertainty of the future. We struggle with the darkness of not understanding the little frustrations in our lives but also with the huge unanswerable questions. We drift into darkness with our flirtations with sin and pride stumbling to find our way out of those places. We get depressed with our failures, frustrated with our unfulfilled dreams and saddened with our frailties as we face disease and death. We are staggered by storms in our lives and constantly wish we could see ahead and grasp the future. In some ways our understanding of things seems to be lit with an inadequate faltering light.

What will Jesus do with all this darkness of unknowning and all of these lingering doubts? There is a constant inability in all of us to see what is ahead and at the same time there is an endless desiring in us to understand what is behind us, around us and ahead of us. It is the human condition. The ancient peoples struggled in the human condition when God sent His Son and it remains a difficulty for us today.

The Son who was to be the Savior, entered the world as a tiny child in the room fit for animals and this did not seem to be the answer. On the surface it looks like a most fragile of promises. Yet this Jesus came as Light and Life. He would shine in the darkest of moments bringing a new light to the world. He shines now for all those who will open their eyes to the hope He brings. He is the One who knows everything and we should trust Him with our past, present and future. He is the One who could with His voice calm the sea and we can trust Him with our fears. He is the One who penetrates our darkness and we should look to Him for understanding. He was and is the Light of the world and in Him all will find a way in our darkness. He is waiting to shine the light of His presence towards you, behind you, in front of you and all around you. In that light you find God’s wondrous love that came as baby in a manger and later gave His life as the answer for your sin and mine. The true light of Christmas isn’t colored and electric but pure and powerful. The light that Jesus Christ brings is able to penetrate the darkness that we all face, providing true answers to every question and a love that heals our greatest pain. May we always and forever be a people who “see a great light.”

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” (John 8:12, NLT)

Suggested Reading … John 8