Proverbs 14:4 - Christmas Devotional: How is Your Manger?
How is Your Manger?
Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the
strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest. Proverbs 14:4.
During the time of Caesar Augustus, an issue was decreed
that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. So
Joseph and Mary, subjects of the Roman government, left the
town of Nazareth and went to their hometown of Bethlehem
because Joseph belonged to the house of David. Mary and
Joseph were engaged. She was expecting her first child, and
while they were there, in Bethlehem, the time came for the
baby to be born. Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son,
whom they named Jesus. "She wrapped him in cloths and placed
him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the
The baby Jesus, out Savior, was born in a crude building
that reeked of animal dung and was placed in a cruel manger.
His welcoming committee consisted of donkeys and oxen and
dirt-poor shepherds. There was nothing delicate about the
surroundings into which our Savior was born. No place more
humble could have been found in which to lay the Savior of
the universe. None of us can say that we had a less
auspicious start in life, but Jesus proved during His
sojourn among us that He works best in difficult and
Jesus came to bring the touch of God to humanity. Isaiah
prophesied of our Savior, "Surely He took up our infirmities
and carried our sorrows."2 Jesus was the sinless friend of
sinners. He liked sinners; He enjoyed their company; He had
compassion on them; He loved them. In one story of Jesus, "A
man with leprosy came to Him and begged Him on His knees,
'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with
compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man.
'I am willing,' He said. 'Be clean!' Immediately, the
leprosy left Him and He was cured."3
"Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and
touched the man." Do you know what a touch meant to someone
with leprosy? Imagine. Suppose the man's name was John. In
his previous life, he had a wife and two young children. One
day, John was at work and noticed a raised scab on his upper
arm. He was somewhat concerned and so he went home to his
wife. She told him to hurry to the priest; perhaps he could
do something to help. But the priest assured John that there
was nothing that could be done for him. He had received a
plague, a judgment from God. There was no hope. He could not
return to his family, not for one last hug or kiss - not
even for one last touch.
The disease of leprosy was not particularly painful after
the first few weeks, and although John may not have felt
physical pain, he certainly did suffer. Almost all the pain
that he felt came from the outside, the pain of rejection
imposed upon him by his community. How the man came to
Jesus, we do not know, but it is not too hard to imagine the
indignation rippling through the crowd as John walked
through them to meet Jesus while shouting "Unclean!
Unclean!" When he reached Jesus, we are told that he fell
down at His knees and begged, "If you are willing, you can
make me clean." And Jesus, filled with compassion, reached
out His hand and touched the man. The crowd must have
Imagine being touched after years or months of no contact
with another human. What, do you suppose, was his response?
A tear? A flinch? How many months or years had it been since
he felt the warmth of a human touch? What would have been
The text in Proverbs says, "without the oxen, the manger is
empty." The greatest Lover in history appeared to us amidst
the dirty oxen of a lowly stable. He appeared amidst the
scandal of an expectant, yet unmarried couple. He knows what
hurts us. Jesus reveals a God who is not indifferent to
human agony, a God who reached out to touch us, a God who
fully embraces the human condition, and plunges into the
thick of our human struggle.5 He showed us that He is
Emmanuel, God with us - God who touches us. There is nothing
that Jesus does not understand about the heartache that
hangs like a cloud over the history of our lives. God
expects us to lay the difficult, unpleasant, and leprous
parts of our life before Him. Unless He washes us, unless He
touches our lives, we may have no part with Him6 without the
oxen, the manger is empty. Jesus knows all about us, but He
loves us anyway. He says, "My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness."7
Luke says, "There was no room for them in the inn." Do you
have room for Jesus in your life? In our society today, we
guard ourselves to make sure that no one discovers our
weaknesses. We feel that we must carry around our failures
and burdens in a brown paper bag whose contents are not
visible to the rest of the world. Jesus commands us, "Lay
that burden down. I am here to take care of it." Isn't it
wonderful to know that we have a Savior who knows all about
us and yet still loves us the same as if we had never
sinned? - if only we could let Him inn.
If you find yourself struggling under a burden of sin or
depression or disappointment, Jesus is waiting to be born in
your manger. Jesus came to this earth to deal with our
"messy" problems. He loves to touch our lives. He knows our
weaknesses, but Jesus works most powerfully through our
shortcomings. God loves to work in the difficult and
unpleasant situations of our lives. If we let Him live long
enough in the manger of our life, amidst the oxen of our
burdens, we will be changed. Slowly, the stench of our hurt
and anger will be broken by the fragrance of our knowledge
of Him. We will become the "aroma of Christ among those who
are being saved and those who are perishing."8
If you already have a relationship with Jesus, remember back
to what you were like when He called you. Remember your
first encounter with God. Remember the day you met Jesus.
Remember how your heart quaked at the awareness of His
presence. Remember how you trembled in the presence of His
overwhelming love. Not many of us were brilliant by human
standards; not many of us were influential; not many of us
were of noble birth;9 some of us were arrogant; some of us
were proud. Praise God! He chose us anyway!
God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the
wise. He chooses the weak things of the world to shame the
strong.10 Do we, like Jesus, have love for the unlovable? Do
we have love for the lepers in our lives? Are we willing to
touch other's lives? Jesus was a sinless friend of sinners.
Are we friends of sinners or are we their worst enemies -
our own worst enemies? How can we overcome? We ask God to
help that what breaks His heart, will break our hearts as
Littered along the road from the Manger to the Cross will be
the bitterness, anger, disappointment, pride, and arrogance
that we once tightly held in the security of our brown paper
bag. In its place, we will grasp the transparent vessel of
the body of Christ. We will extend to our frightened world
the love, hope, and touch of Jesus Christ regardless of
race, religion, or culture. From the strength of an ox comes
an abundant harvest.
My prayer for you this holiday is that you may experience
Jesus - that pearl of great price wrapped in cloths and
lying in a manger. May the grace of Jesus Christ be with you
this Christmas, and may you continue to find joy in your
journey with Him. Christina.
I Luke 2:1-7. All texts are my paraphrase or are quoted from
the NIV Bible. C. 1996 by AMG, International.
2 Isaiah 53:4
3 Mark 1:40-44.
4 See Philip Yancey, In The Jesus I Never Knew. Pages
5 See Brennan Manning, In Lion and Lamb. Page 128.
6 John 13:8
7 2 Corinthians 12:9
8 2 Corinthians 2:14,15
9 1 Corinthians 1:18, 25-31
This Christmas meditation is by Christina Harris.