What the Manger Teaches Me About Family

Every Christmas we arrange a manger scene in our house. A few shepherds, three “wise men from afar,” and an angel or two all look adoringly toward the baby Jesus in a manger. Of course, we also have a few barn animals milling about. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Christmas, this simple scene reminds us of the Christmas story, taking us back to the first Christmas day when Christ was born in Bethlehem. One of the things I like most about the manger scene is that a family sits at the center of it all. Of course, the baby Jesus is the ultimate center, but even He is surrounded by His earthly family. The whole world—from the wealthy wise men and the poor shepherds to the heavenly angels–drew near to admire a baby surrounded by family. Amazingly, they all drew near to admire a baby in the midst of a town so crowded and chaotic that the only place for a pregnant woman to deliver her baby was in a barn. Can you imagine the crowd that must have filled Bethlehem, the greed that turned a woman-in-labor away from a warm bed and clean dwelling? Yet in the midst of that rushing crowd, the greedy market, and the tired travelers, a family drew near to one another, cared for one another, and loved one another…extravagantly. That’s the first lesson I learn about family from the manger scene: make time for family. Put aside all the trappings of Christmas–the excessive material gifts, the unrestrained shopping, the Griswold-style decorations, the greedy desires, and the bigger than life Christmas tree–and make time to share with your family, time to build one another up and time to love one another extravagantly…just as God loved us by sending Emmanuel to earth.
The manger also teaches us that Christmas is a time to slow down and treasure your family, ponder your family memories. In the midst of the shepherds, wise men, and animals, usually kneeling next to Joseph and gazing at the baby Jesus, we find Mary. Mary does something that I believe so crucial to the Christmas season: she “treasures all these things and ponders them.” As angels sing in the heavens, shepherds rush through town to find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, strangers fight for hotel rooms and their place in line, and parents grumble about spending the night in the crowded town of Bethlehem, Mary quietly treasured her newborn baby. She listened to the shepherd’s story and the angel’s prophecies about her child and “pondered them in her heart.” She took time to “treasure” and “ponder” her family, to cherish her family and keep them in her heart and mind. Christmas is a time to slow down and treasure your family, ponder your family memories.
Events leading up the manger scene teach us to give family members the benefit of the doubt as well. Joseph had a hard time during Mary’s pregnancy. After all, he thought Mary had fooled around on him and gotten pregnant by another man. He loved Mary, but how could he marry her now? He decided to quietly end the engagement and move on. One night an angel appeared to him and explained the situation. The angel told Joseph that Mary had been faithful to him and that the baby “conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph had difficulty believing Mary…understandable. But, God cleared the air and confirmed the truth. Joseph obeyed what the “angel of the Lord had commanded him” and married Mary. This is an extreme case, but it teaches us of the need to give family members the benefit of the doubt. We think the best of those we love and we give them the benefit of the doubt. In the midst of the rush of Christmas, give family members the benefit of the doubt. When someone blows up in frustration or says something with a sharp edge, give the benefit of the doubt…think the best of them.
The manger shouts for us to make sacrifices for our family. Mary, mistakenly thought to be a teen mother out of wedlock, sacrificed a “holy reputation” to trust God in starting her family. Joseph, a man whose friends may have mistakenly believed he married a cheating woman, sacrificed his reputation to marry and start a family. They both sacrificed their homeland to move their family to Egypt and escape Herod’s wrath. Perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all was made by God, who gave up his “only begotten Son” to make a world of lost people His adopted children. Christmas is brimming with sacrifice that leads to greater happiness and stronger family ties. This Christmas, follow the lesson of the manger: put your family’s needs above your own and make the sacrifices necessary to promote your family’s health.
One final lesson of Christmas: seek the Christ child. The angels sang of His birth. The shepherds rushed through Bethlehem to worship Him. Wise men traveled great distances to bring Him gifts. Simeon blessed Him. The widow gave thanks for Him in the temple. Each and every one heard of his miraculous birth and the promise of redemption. Each one came to see and worship Emmanuel–God with us. When we get right to the crux of it, isn’t that what Christmas is all about? The fact that God became man and dwelt among men, Emmanuel, God with us! This Christmas, join with the whole heavenly family and seek the Christ child.

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