I’ve done a lot of thinking about Christmas this year. It’s my favorite season, but this year, I’ve just been pondering the themes and elements in a different way.
I’ve asked the question many times, why did God choose a manger for his grand entrance? Now, I’m not about to argue about whether it was a stable, a cave or an attached garage where they kept the family animals. That’s neither here nor there. Because, regardless of which of the three it was, it was not the kind of entrance a king should make. Especially the king of kings.
I mean, this is the king of the universe. He spoke the grass into existence that he was laying on. He created the very idea of a tree (or rock) make the feeding trough/manger. So, if any king ever should have made a grand entrance, you’d have thought it would be this one. I mean fireworks, fanfare, red carpet-the works.
But he didn’t. He chose the lowliest place to enter. Pretty much the opposite of a king’s entrance. But, why?
Well, it struck me. Two ideas in particular came together in my mind. The incarnation and the great shepherd.
Jesus is the great shepherd.
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The whole first part of John 10 talks about Jesus being the good shepherd. This is a very common metaphor for people who care for God’s people. We still call the people who care for us in churches today, shepherds. Jesus is the good shepherd. He comes in among the sheep and the sheep know his voice.
Think about it, sheep only know the voice of the shepherd. They don’t know the voice of the local authorities. They don’t know the voice of the king. The king of their country could come and command them to follow him, but they wouldn’t. Why? Because they don’t know his voice. But Jesus, the good shepherd is among the sheep and they know his voice so they follow him. Sheep couldn’t relate to a king. But they could relate to a shepherd.
Is it any coincidence the first to know that the savior was born were shepherds?
But that’s not all.
God in the flesh
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…
We understand the idea of Jesus being a shepherd. The son of God was the good shepherd. But that’s not the whole picture of Christmas. Jesus didn’t just come to be a good shepherd. Jesus became a sheep. This is the picture of Jesus being placed in the manger. This is where shepherds would often put the newly born sheep. And here, Jesus-the good shepherd-is born and where do they put him? Not only the same place they would put a newborn lamb. But also, the same place those sheep would eat.
Here, the son of God became a man. God in flesh – A.K.A. the incarnation. The God who spoke the universe into existence became a man. Not just a shepherd to care for and protect the sheep. He actually became one of the sheep. He was placed in that manger, and all at once it became clear.
He is one of us. Not just God with us; ethereal, transcendent, intangible. But, one OF us; present, immanent, tangible. Relatable. Speaking the same language. Using the same expressions. Raised in the same culture. He knew exactly what it meant and felt like to be a sheep, a human.
Who is better to care for the sheep? The king who only knows the palace life or a shepherd who knows the sheep life?
One final thought:
The manger was also the place they fed the animals.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
Not only did the king become both shepherd and sheep. He became that which gives us life. He is the bread of life. When we come to the manger, there we will find the bread of life that leaves us perfectly satisfied. The word became flesh. This word, lying in a feeding trough would become the very life for our souls.
It’s pretty amazing, really, when you think about it, as absurd as it seems for the king of kings to come in such an outlandish way. But, then it’s only outlandish by our way of thinking. By human standards, this was a foolish way to begin the story. It would have been more believable that Jesus was a king if he’d been born like one. But, that wasn’t the point of this entrance. That entrance is coming. There will be a grand entrance, one like you might expect for the king of all creation, trumpets, choirs, clouds being rolled back like a scroll and what not. But, that’s not yet.
This entrance was perfect. For what Jesus came to do. Who Jesus came to be, God in the flesh, the good shepherd laying down his life for the sheep, the perfect spotless lamb, the bread of life, well, this was the best entrance he could have made.