Today, we are going to think on the Biblical message found in the .words of that wonderful Christmas carol, "Away In A Manger." A great deal of mystery has surrounded this familiar song of Christmas. One tradition has it that it was written by Martin Luther as a song to be sung to his children. Most students of hymnology dispute this claim, however. The earliest appearance of the text was in J.C. File’s Little Children’s Book, which was published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of North America in 1945. Initially, the song consisted of two verses, until a third was later written by John Thomas McFarland. The tune was composed by James Murray.
The mystery of how the first two verses of this song came to be, ironically parallels the mystery associated with the event that the song celebrates. Too many people today have no idea of the true meaning of Christmas.
The message of this wonderful hymn, however, is intended to dispel the mystery associated with the birth of Christ. Here in these verses, we discover three truths, also found in the text of Galatians 4:4-5, that explain what the birth of Jesus was all about. This hymn tells us about:
1. The Nature Of Christ’s Coming - verse 1
Verse 1 declares two things about the nature of Christ’s birth, which are found in Galatians 4:4-5.
Christ’s coming was . . .
A. Supernatural - The writer of this hymn points out that, though it was a baby in the manger, that baby was LORD! This was something which the heavenly inhabitants readily recognized, "The stars in the sky all looked down where He lay."
Paul tells us that the supernatural aspect of Christ’s birth is seen in that:
1) He came at a divinely appointed time -
"But when the time had fully come ..."
There are over 300 prophecies that were recorded in the Old Testament over a long period of time and by many different prophets that were fulfilled the instant the Son of God was born as a babe in a manger to become the Savior of the world. Jesus was born at a divinely appointed time.
2) He came in a divinely anointed way -
"... God sent His Son . . ."
The coming of Christ into this world was a work of God.
“‘Don’t be afraid, Mary,’ the angel told her, ‘for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!’ Mary asked the angel, ‘But how can this happen? I am a virgin.’ The angel replied, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God.’” - Luke 1:29-35 (NLT)
Jesus was God come in human form. That’s why He came as He did, born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit!
B. Natural - Though the babe born in Bethlehem so long ago came into this world through supernatural means, his coming was also very natural, as the writer of this hymn makes clear.
1) He was born as are all men -
". . . born of a woman ..."
Jesus lived as all men do. He experienced the limitations of humanity. He grew weary. He experienced pain. He shed tears. He lost loved ones. He laughed and He cried. Though He was divine, He was no less human; and as a human . . .
2) He was burdened as are all men -
"... born under law ..."
Jesus faced the prospect of living up to the standard of righteousness required by the law of God. Unlike you and I, however, He fulfilled the requirements of the law in that He knew no sin.
“We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all - all but the sin.” - Hebrews 4:15 (The Message)
Humphrey the humpback whale be¬came a national celebrity. Humphrey became the focus of the network news media when he made his way into the San Francisco Bay and headed up the Sacramento River. Not turning back would be a deadly mistake.
Many attempted to get Humphrey to turn around and go back to the salt-water environment of the ocean which was essential to his survival. Humphrey was finally lured into turning around by the recording of other humpback whales. You see, it takes a whale to talk to whales!
We have all made wrong turns in life - turns that are deadly, turns which have taken us out of the environment in which God created us to live in. How could God get us to turn around, to return home?
That’s why God sent His one and only Son. The theory behind it? It takes a whale to talk to whales, and it takes a human being to talk to human beings! That is what Christmas is all about. We have made wrong turns which are fatal but Jesus came to make it possible for us to turn around to¬ward life.
2. The Purpose Of Christ’s Coming - verse 2
". . .to redeem those under the law ..."
As we have already said, Jesus came to communicate to us how we might turn around and escape certain eternal death. But He not only came to show us the way to escape condemnation for our sinfulness; He came to provide the way whereby we might escape eternal condemnation. He came to die in our place. You see, His perfect life made it possible for Him to become the perfect sacrifice for our sins.
“He is the kind of high priest we need because he is holy and blameless, unstained by sin. He has been set apart from sinners and has been given the highest place of honor in heaven. Unlike those other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices every day. They did this for their own sins first and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus did this once for all when he offered himself as the sacrifice for the people’s sins. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins.”
- Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:14 (CEV)
It has been said that Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered! Well, because of Christmas, our past sinfulness can be forgotten; our present life can be full; and our future joy will be forever!
Indeed, when I trust Christ as my Savior, He will "stay by my side until morning is nigh," for He will "never leave me nor forsake me" (Hebrews 13:5b).
May we never forget that it is impossible to understand the significance of the cradle without viewing it in light of the cross!
The suburban Chicago village of Wauconda, Illinois, displayed a light¬ed cross on the top of the town’s water tower each Christmas for more than 40 years. An atheist in the area along with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue if the cross was not removed. After consulting with local citizens, the city council de¬cided that rather than spend time and legal fees in court fighting what could be a losing battle, they would comply and remove the cross from the water tower. The godly people of the town, how¬ever, began placing lighted crosses on the tops of their houses, on the balco¬nies of private businesses, all around the square, and in their yards.
May we, likewise, determine to remind our world that the cross is what gives true meaning to Christmas!
3. The Result Of Christ’s Coming - verse 3
"... that we might receive the full rights of sons . . ."
It has been said that any man can be a father but that it takes a special kind of man to be a Dad! The ideal father does more than simply have a part in the procreation of the child, he helps to mold the child through generous amounts of love, guidance, correction, forgiveness and praise. Fortunate are those who have had a father with whom they had such a personal relationship.
Whether or not this has been true for you, this much is for certain: we can all experience the ultimate father-child relationship when we experience God as our Heavenly Father through faith in Christ.
Conclusion; The birth of Jesus in a manger is a dramatic example of the equality of all people before God. Suppose Jesus had been born in a palace; the Wise Men might have gotten in, but the humble shepherds would have been turned away at the gates by armed guards. Yet at the manger, shepherds and kings could approach on equal footing. God’s gift is for all people. His love sent down not a delegation, a commission, an unapproachable monarch, but a baby! A baby, who grew up to die on a cross for my sins and yours so that all might become the children of God!