Songs like Away in a Manger- as cozy as it sounds- doesn’t capture the filth in Luke 2. Away in a Trough doesn’t have the same ring to it, but for those of you who have had a child, you know that giving birth is anything but cozy. No, it’s crazy! It’s exciting, it’s nerve-wracking, it’s dangerous, and it’s exhilarating all at once. It’s not cozy- and I’m just speaking as a witness here. Imagine Joseph telling friends and family, “Oh, it was such a breezy, cozy, clean, quiet night in that home constructed for our furry friends.” I can then imagine Mary slapping him! Of course, she wouldn’t, because she’s Mary, but she probably did ponder it up in heart for later…
No, this night was normal, which means it was loud and messy. Think about this, Mary gives birth in a barn- so you have straw, feed, animals are somewhere nearby. If they aren’t, their manure is. I remember being struck after the birth of our first-born. Here we are in a hospital. White sheets, clean towels, a bed, a shower and prepared meals. Okay, maybe the meals belonged more in a trough than a plate, but still, we had our own room with bedside computers and fetal heart monitors.
The Father didn’t send his Son to North America in 2013. No, Mary’s given birth in a germ-invested barn, and she places the baby in a trough. That’s not varnish you see on that trough, that’s salivation. Salvation is in the trough, sheep salivation is on it. There lies the Son of God.
Once again, it makes one think, did God miss His target?
Of course, God didn’t miss at all. See, what this short story does so well is paint for us a picture of grace. The incarnation is about God entering into a broken and dark world for broken and sinful people. This story paints for us how grace reaches out to the outcast and draws them into God’s presence. Sin no longer separates. God draws the misfit in and sends them as missionaries out. And they do so proclaiming the Good News. Can you imagine a bunch of known shepherds strutting through the streets of Bethlehem that night? God gave those unfit to testify in a court of law the privilege to being the first- the FIRST!- to testify to the world that the Messiah is in that barn over there. This is God’s way of doing things!
God’s way of doing things is different. He is born in a barn. He trots into parades on a donkey. This Savior strikes up conversations with a promiscuous woman and sends her off as a missionary to Samaria. This Lord talks to lepers as opposed to leaders, he reaches out to the sick as opposed to the Sadducees, he heals the cripple and wears a crown of thorns. He sends out fishermen as opposed to Pharisees. This King commands his citizens to turn the other cheek when slapped, to give a coat away to a cold stranger, and to show compassion to the untouchables in society. This King was first placed on dirty wood to begin his life, and it ended by being nailed on dirty wood- from a trough covered with sheep salivation to a our everlasting salvation. This is God’s way of doing things.