The Greek word (φάτνη phatnē), derived from the verb, pateomai (“to eat”) is usually translated “manger” in the New Testament. A manger is a feeding trough for animals, and in ancient Israel near Bethlehem it was probably an area cut out of the rock wall of a cave used to keep sheep.
How was Jesus’ birth? On that amazing day, Joseph and Mary, finding no room for themselves and their unborn child in an inn, were forced to take refuge in a cold, damp cave used as shelter for animals. Mary would have looked for the most comfortable place and, since animals were there, brushed away the manure. As a poor girl from Nazareth, she was used to the smell. Mary probably had no bed or birthing stool, so she would have laid back or squatted down in whatever hay was available and in the clothes she was wearing.
Did the innkeeper’s wife and her friends help the young mother deliver? Did Mary have an experienced midwife to coach and encourage her? Were fears a constant companion, at least before the pain became so bad that she could think of little else? Did she regret that she could not be at home with her mother, family and friends? The angel had promised that she would deliver a son, but he did not promise that she would be physically healthy afterwards.
If Joseph was alone, would he know how to deliver the baby? Childbirth was not a man’s business in Ancient Judea. Would he be able to care for the child once it was born? Did fears and doubts nearly overwhelm him, for knowing that many women died in or shortly after childbirth? How could Mary help him? Mary had seen other women have babies and helped a few, so she knew what to expect, but Joseph probably had no idea. If Mary was alone except for Joseph, she would have tried to talk him through it. Did the shadowy cave, probably illuminated by a single torch, add to his fear?
After Jesus was born, the attendant laid him on Mary’s breast, where he began to nurse. There may not have been salt to rub him down or water to drink and clean. Mary lay back to rest. Joseph, trembling with fear and excitement, watched carefully over them until he too collapsed into sleep, praising God for His goodness, yet exhausted from the night.
How can infinite glory, sublime beauty, and awesome power give way to sickly poverty, flawed appearance, and pitiful weakness? It is impossible to fully understand the glory of God in heaven, and equally impossible to understand how low Christ had to stoop when he came to earth.
As we read again the time-honored story of our Savior’s birth, listen to the words, and dive deeply into each part. What part of the story speaks loudest to you? Is it the actual birth, the shepherds, the angels, Mary or Joseph? What do you treasure and ponder in your heart concerning this story and its meaning for your life? Each time you hear the Christmas story you learn and marvel at the love of God for us. Let the words sink deep within you and praise the Lord for His matchless gift, Jesus the Christ. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Away in a Manger
|Away in a manger,
No crib for His bed
The little Lord Jesus
Laid down His sweet head
The stars in the sky
Looked down where He lay
The little Lord Jesus
Asleep on the hay
The cattle are lowing
Be near me, Lord Jesus,