When it comes to holidays, there is no question that Christmas ranks up there with the most anticipated and the most depressing. Many people look forward to the lights, the festivity, the pageantry, the gatherings, the church programs, and the food. Oh… and the gifts.
Conversely, there are those who fear Christmas. They feel alone, discouraged, overwhelmed, burdened, and depressed. It isn’t a festive time or a time of reveling in the busyness of the season. The truth is, many people are hurting and Christmas only amplifies the pain. This year, it seems like more people are hurting because of the worldwide pandemic caused by Covid-19.
Families are separated, people are grieving, traditions are broken, and the emotional stress is building. Psychologists are starting to notice that the prolonged challenge is having a devastating effect on mental health. In a recent article on the VeryWellMind.com website, the author writes;
“The ongoing stress and uncertainty of a pandemic has provided collective stress for many, resulting in a sharp decline of mental health across the United States and the world. There are many factors, including changes in job responsibilities, sick friends or family, fear of illness, and general uncertainty for the future. Between the lack of control that impacts our wellness to the chronic Zoom fatigue that has plagued many working from home since March, the changes in our mental health have been documented.”
Because of this decline in mental health, there is a lot more anger, impatience, depression, and a general apathetic attitude. Families are fighting with each other, friends cease talking, and things which were enjoyable are now arduous tasks not worth doing. In terms of faith, people are now struggling within a prolonged absence from the local gathering of the church, corporate worship and prayer, visiting with friends and serving in ministry. All of this compounds and stacks upon each other to create a volatile spiritual, emotional and physical existence.
The question before us is how do you maintain joy in the midst of pain? Or, perhaps a more timely question is does the manger mean anything when you’re hurting?
The short answer is yes. Emphatically yes!
The long answer…
1. The Manger Is Meaningful Because it Was Dirty
This might seem a little weird. How can that be comforting in any way? Well, think about it. The Christmas story in the gospel of Luke describes for us, in at least three verses, that the baby born to Joseph and Mary was lain in a manger.
- “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)
- “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
- “They went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16)
If you know anything about this story, you know that there is quite a bit of emphasis on Jesus being placed in a manger after his birth. If you don’t know what a manger is, it is another word for trough. It was where animals ate. It was where the slop, scraps, and animal slobber was. Of course, Joseph or Mary probably cleaned it as best they could, but… still… it’s a manger.
See, this is meaningful because it declares an important truth. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).”
As Christians, we were all once stained so deeply with sin that there was no hope for us. When Jesus defeated death on the cross, he provided the means to be cleansed from sin. Our soul was dirty. That manger in which the Lord of All was placed at His birth was dirty before Jesus. Just like us. The promise of Scripture is that with Jesus, we are now cleansed.
As Christians, we were all once stained so deeply with sin that there was no hope for us. When Jesus defeated death on the cross, he provided the means to be cleansed from sin.
No amount of hurt or pain can ever make that stain come back. It is forever cleansed. You are forever God’s.
2. The Manger is Meaningful Because it Points Us to Glory
After Jesus was born, there was an amazing display of heavenly bodies. An angel appeared to shepherds tending their sheep in the cool of the night. This angel declared that the Savior was born, and that we would be found in a manger. And then, in an eruption of pure joy, the heavens opened up and a host of angels appeared singing in their angelic voices, “Glory to God in the highest!” (Luke 2:14b).
Glory to God! Glory to God in the highest! As the Lord of all Creation lies in a manger the angels declare the glory of God. As you look at the manger, as you stare at the child, as you think of the Christmas story, as you hurt within your heart, as you wonder where God is, as you stumble in your faith, as you feel alone while everyone else is gathering with loved ones, as your heart cries out with the pain of a lifetime, as this Christmas is different than any other…. declare the glory of God!
The manger, holding the newborn baby, points us to the glory of God. As you peer into that trough, with a trembling trepidation… gaze on the glory of God.
In the gospel of John, in his telling of the birth of Christ, (at least in the way that he does it), we read this truth; “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) In other words, Jesus is the view of the glory of God. And He’s in a manger.
This Christmas, as you struggle with the effects of a prolonged pandemic, family members who are hurting and lashing out, a desperation to be rid of the hurt… remember the manger. That manger holds the baby, who was promised from the very beginning of Scripture, that can direct your eyes, your heart, your thoughts to the glory of God. While that may not take away all the problems, and/or pain, it will begin the process of resting in the joy provided through the cleansing of sin by the one who holds you for all eternity.