Children’s eyes grow wide with wonder to hear it, but adult eyes rarely do the same. We’ve heard of the Baby in the manger so often, many of us have forgotten the message in the story. But that manger is much more than what many relegate to children’s picture books. It’s much more than the silent night, the holy night when shepherds quaked at the sight.
The message of the manger and that first advent is about me. And it’s about you. It’s the message of God’s personal intervention into history to rescue us from the eternal danger we faced because of our sins. It’s about Golgotha’s cross looming above the manger where the little Lord Jesus lay asleep on the hay.
I love that old cross, where the dearest and best, for a world of lost sinners was slain.
Some time ago I showed an elderly woman a painting of a crucifix – a cross with Jesus nailed to it. She physically shuddered and turned her head. It was too bloody. Too gruesome. She told me she prefers the empty cross. I interpreted that to mean she prefers a pretty cross – as many prefer the sterile barn, the clean hay, and cattle peacefully lowing in the background.
We don’t like to confront the ominous cloud that overshadowed that manger. And yet, it was precisely for Golgotha Jesus was born in Bethlehem. “Now My soul has become troubled,” He would say shortly before His crucifixion. “And what shall I say, ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27).
Long before Adam and Eve did what they did in Eden, Jesus knew what He’d have to do on Golgotha thirty years after Bethlehem.
"But He was pierced through for our transgressions,” Isaiah prophesied seven centuries earlier about Messiah. “He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (53:4-6)
It’s nice to dress trees, wrap gifts, and receive picture-perfect Christmas cards for the holiday. The celebration of Messiah’s birth is God’s reminder to us year after year that He loved us – and still loves us – so much that He sent His Son into our world so that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life.
But unless we also remember the Man who hung on a cross as much as we focus on the Baby in a manger, we will never mature beyond a sterile picture-perfect faith. It is by the manger and the old rugged cross that God demonstrates the true message of Christmas.
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!