The last chapter of this book is titled simply, the manger. Of course, it delves into a variety of related topics. In the video, the author talks of speaking with a shepherd near Bethlehem. Bethlehem is now a bustling city, but was a tiny village in the first century. It was interesting though, because then, as now, shepherding was not a prestige occupation. They were very humble people and are still. The shepherd he spoke to, was actually a Muslim, but said he thought that God was allowing humble folks to see Jesus first because God loves humble people. Of course, we can draw out other analogies, since Jesus is referred to as a shepherd himself.
This may be a bit out of order, since I haven’t finished actually reading the chapter, and I am going on memory of the video and discussion. My notes went at this point to the Magi, though their arrival was some time later. They brought expensive gifts, gold in honor of Jesus’ royalty. Of course, the author theorizes that the gold may have been needed when they went to Egypt. Who knows? He seems not to have had it later, once He began His ministry. The frankincense refers to His priestly function. The myrrh makes one think of how He would eventually die for us all. I have heard those connections made before, but they may be new to some.
That brings us back to the actual birth of Jesus. The author reminds us of the way middle eastern houses normally had the stable attached, at one end, or underneath. Sometimes it was actually one of the limestone caves common to the area. They took a camera crew into the grotto beneath a church that, tradition holds, was where the actual birth of Jesus took place. Normally of course, there are crowds going past, so one is a bit rushed, more so than the camera made it appear. They also showed some pictures of actual mangers from the area. They are made of stone, large substantial square containers, nothing like the flimsy wooden things found in most creche scenes. One can easily imagine a cow or sheep eating out of them. As an improvised bed, my observation would be that, assuming the level of feed was below the top, there is no way a baby could fall out or topple it over. It was completely solid, with no gaps at all. Perhaps our manger scenes would be closer if we simply borrowed an actual metal feeding trough and painted it to look like stone?
That led to our discussion, which centered mainly on one of our members who had gone to see this holy site. He had connections, so was able to go on a slow day and take his time. He said he expected to feel a sense of awe and be led to worship. But even without the crowds it just seemed like one more ancient place that tourists come to visit. He tried to worship, but even that seemed to go nowhere. It is understandable that people would try to locate these places and even to venerate them. Surely others may feel more connected to God in such a place. But perhaps the point is, that God is not about place. If He were, surely we would all have to go to Jerusalem to speak with Him. Ancient Israel thought that God’s glory resided in the tabernacle. But during the Babylonian captivity, didn’t they learn that He transcended all of that? Jerusalem was destroyed, the temple was destroyed, they were in exile and they found that God was somehow still with them.
So Jesus was born, to humble people, in humble surroundings, though He was to be the King of kings. When did He ever tell us to make holy places, to which people would make pilgrimages? That is a very human thing to do, not the turned around world to which Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us, introduced us. Instead, He pointed us to a new reality, the kingdom of God within us, in our hearts. As another member observed, perhaps we should pay closer attention to our bodies and our hearts if we wish to honor Him.