And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.(Luke 2:12)
The very first lesson that Jesus taught upon His birth was humility. We well know the story of how there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn when it came time for Jesus to be born. And since He was laid in a manger and not a basket or an ancient crib, most infer that Jesus came forth in the stable, or barn: the place the animals were kept.
I find it so interesting that in Luke, the angel says “this shall be a sign unto you,” and then proceeds to describe how the baby Jesus will be wrapped and where He will be. A manger. He is lying in a manger. The Savior of the world taking His first nap, lying upon the hay where the animals feed. Humility – Jesus taught us this most important lesson from the very beginning.
Was “the sign” to the shepherds insignificant? Just practical – you know – so that they would know that it was no peasant lying amongst the lowly animals. Or did it mean more? Did “the sign” indicate that instead of conquering in power and might, this Almighty God in flesh would win hearts by sacrifice, meekness, and humility?
5 Lessons from the Manger
There is a beautiful passage regarding the incarnation found in Philippians 2:6-8:
[Jesus], though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
This is perhaps one of the most poignant lessons on humility in scripture. There are five things I see here that the meek and lowly Savior did to be an example of humility to us.
1. Jesus chose not to use His authority.
Jesus had all authority; He was God in flesh. But He didn’t hit the Earth like a lightening bolt and demand by force that all pay the required homage. No – He didn’t force His way. God became man and subjected Himself to the limitations found therein.
Is there ever a time when we – in the interest of others – don’t use what authority we have? As flawed humans, we tend to be ever clamoring for more power. The manger teaches us to lay aside “our rights” and lean into the responsibility we have to love and serve.
2. He emptied Himself.
When someone is terribly selfish, don’t we often say, “he’s full of himself”? If that doesn’t describe our sinful natures in a nut-shell: we are full of ourselves! So full that we often have little room for looking to the interest of others and putting someone else’s well-being before our own.
Jesus taught us from His lowly manger, that we must empty ourselves of our own selfish ambitions and desires and make the will of God our sole aim. Lord, let us be empty that You might fill us!
3. He took on the form of a servant.
Matthew 20:28 says:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Does any child ever say that she wants to grow up to become a servant? I don’t think so! It’s not a glamorous role. What “form” is the form of a servant? It’s lowly, humble. It’s making your entire life about tending to the needs of someone else. I’m not sure at what age the consciousness struck Him, but at some point Jesus realized the full scope of His mission. Serve. Save the world by serving the world.
4. He humbled Himself.
We’ve all heard it said that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less! This goes against our natural inclinations. We think to be happy we must continually put ourselves first. The world’s philosophy often bears this out, yet why are the most self-centered people also the most unhappy and discontent?
The essence of the Christian life is learning to – daily – die out to our selfish desires and personal interests, and to serve God and others will all of our heart. Not an easy thing to do, but with practice, we can get better. It’s amazing to think about how much we balk at this when the Omnipotent God confined himself to the constraints of flesh. Lord, help us to follow in Your example.
5. Jesus was obedient to the point of death.
looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2)
Was Jesus sad? No! He knew there was joy at the end of all of this. He knew that His journey which began at the manger would not end at a cross, but rather in glory! In fellowship with us, His beloved.
If humility ever sounds like a huge downer, we can be assured of the promises in scripture. Jesus was able to humble Himself to death – even death on a cross – because there was joy waiting on the other side. One of the most telling tests of our humility is at the point of obedience. Will we obey when it is not easy/convenient/fun? Or when it gets hard and painful, will we look for loopholes to get out of obeying?
Though many today will tell the tale that Christianity is only easy and about feeling good, don’t be deceived. A true disciple must be obedient to the point of gruesomeness: we must die daily.
Jesus’ first lesson was from the manger was a theme that continued throughout His time on the Earth. He came to serve mankind by becoming our Savior. By this one act of humble obedience, He paved the path of redemption for all time. And He brought us….joy. Joy through humility. Let this lesson from the manger echo in our minds this Christmas season!