Mangers are Messy Places

“She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.” (Luke 2:7)

The Greeting Card Version

The Greeting Card Version

What does your picture of the Nativity look like? If it at all resembles mine, it is probably very neat. The hay is clean and the star is bright. Mary doesn’t look like she just had a baby and Joseph looks totally calm and collected. They never look like they had just spent days, maybe weeks, traveling to Bethlehem. They never look like they were desperately seeking shelter as the time to give birth approached. It looks calm, tranquil, and perfect.

I challenge that greeting card image because it does us a tremendous disservice. It plants a seed in our minds that Jesus came into calm, tranquil and perfect life and therefore in order to properly celebrate and welcome Jesus at Christmas we too need to get to where our lives are calm, tranquil and perfect.

I don’t know about you – but my life this year in particular has been anything but calm and tranquil. It hasn’t necessarily been bad – just busy. Chaotic. A little stressful at times. I feel like I haven’t quite had the chance to catch my breath. As I write this we are two days from Christmas and it is almost 4 p.m. and I haven’t gotten a chance to take a shower yet today.

Life is never calm and tranquil like those pictures suggest it should be when Jesus comes. But if we buy into the greeting card version of the Nativity, we are going to sure try to make our lives look perfect. We will stuff all of what makes our lives normally messy way down deep inside and try, at least for this month, to project an air of having it all together. I’m not stressed over jobs, finances or children. I’m not hurting from broken relationships or hurtful words. I’m not grieving the loss of a loved one. I’m not frustrated or even angry about my situation. I’m not struggling. I will do my very best to project an image that says I have it all together.

Because Lord knows my life can’t be a mess when Jesus comes.

That is not at all what Christmas is about. The message of the manger is that God loves us so much that He comes to us where we are, as we are. Mess and all.

She – Mary – laid him – Jesus – in a manger and mangers are messy places.

At the beginning of this well loved story in Luke we find that Mary and Joseph are in Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus decided to take a census. This census required everyone report back to the town from which their lineage came from. Joseph and Mary were from the lineage of the House of David – and David was from Bethlehem.

Mary is 8 or 9 months pregnant. She and Joseph have been traveling for days. On foot and on the back of a donkey. Can you imagine being 9 months pregnant and riding a donkey for days? Dusty. Dirty. A little grumpy?

People were coming to Bethlehem from all over the region in order to comply with this census and any facilities they might have had were completely overwhelmed. Mary and Joseph arrive in a place with hundreds, maybe thousands of people, no room, no facilities, and no running water. Everyone has pack animals. We start to get an image that is maybe not quite so pristine. Not quite so clean. Maybe even a little messy.

This is what the cave would have looked like - without the benches and tourists of course!

This is what the cave would have looked like – without the benches and tourists of course!


Add in the actual birth of the baby. That is not a neat and clean process today – let alone 2000 years ago. No masks, no robes, no boiling water, no sanitized tables and instruments. Just a young father and his bride – desperately seeking shelter in the only place they could find; a cave where animals were kept. A place that is small, confined, and dark except for what little light a torch might provide. Smell the stink of animals.

Not quite so clean. Maybe even a little messy.



She laid him in a manger. I used to think manger meant a barn or a stable, but a manger is actually a feeding trough. Not a crib with the latest in designer

Stone Feeding Trough

Stone Feeding Trough

bedding. It is the place where food was put for the animals to eat. Most likely a stone structure about 3 feet long, 18 inches wide and 2 feet deep. A place that, earlier that day, had been surrounded by sheep as they ate their feed.

Not quite so clean. Maybe even a little messy.

2000 years ago, Jesus came into messy.   He came into chaos and busy. He came into life as it was.   But God didn’t send the baby to stay a baby. Jesus lived a messy life too. Not a life with sin, Jesus was without sin, but He still knew all about messy lives. During his three-year ministry Jesus ate with sinners and touched lepers. He lived in close relationship with twelve other men; His disciples. We all know relationships are messy. One betrayed Him; one denied knowing Him; all of them deserted Him. Then He is arrested and wrongly sentenced; beaten and crucified; a horrible, messy death.

Jesus knows messy. But He also knows victory. God raised Jesus and turned all of that messy into beautiful salvation.

Today, He comes into life as it is and offers us the same beautiful saving grace in the middle of our messy. Don’t let the greeting card pictures convince you otherwise.

Mary laid him in a manger – and mangers are messy.

Living Holy,