And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Christmas and the Manger
We were just at the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation before returning home for the holidays. It was a momentous occasion, so coming back straight from that celebration, we have a few reflections on Christmas through that perspective:
While in Wittenberg, Germany, we were taking in how Martin Luther was awed with Christ’s birth and the poignancy of the manger. He points out that, right from His birth, Jesus was reaching out, communicating that even the lowest and most humble in society may find redemption in Him.
Even though Jesus’s inception was supernatural and of heaven via the Holy Spirit, Jesus didn’t float in on a cloud when He came into the world, but rather, God sent forth his Son to be born of a woman like the rest of humanity.
Moreover, God chose to bring Him forth in the most humble of fashions, being born in a lowly manger next to common barnyard animals, with their hay and dung, the kind of stuff that fills a place like that.
From His very birth, Jesus reaches out to us in our humble, broken, sin-stained state, as fallen human beings in need of redemption. He meets us right down in the dung of our sin and brokenness, and when we take hold of Him, He cleanses us and brings us into forgiveness, healing, and eternal life.
Luther said that when he preached, wrote, or translated the Scriptures, he wasn’t seeking to impress doctors and lawyers with big words, even though he actually had a number of doctors and lawyers in his congregation, but rather sought to communicate simply and clearly so that even the simple ploughboy and milkmaid might understand and receive from Christ.
We were just ministering in downtown San Diego at CDO Church recently and were speaking at their five different services about Martin Luther and the Reformation, using it as a platform to communicate the Gospel. Many responded to the message that weekend and opened their hearts to Christ, as well as many who were also filled with the Holy Spirit.
Christ Reaches Out to All
As we ministered that weekend, I found myself praying for a woman who had come forward wearing a uniform from a fast food chain restaurant. She looked like she’d come over straight from her shift as the uniform was dirty and messy, covered with hamburger stains. She had responded to the Gospel message earlier, and now came forward for prayer. As I prayed for her, she slowly opened up and the Lord began to pour His love and grace over her by the Holy Spirit in a powerful way to where tears filled her eyes as she lifted her hands.
The Lord doesn’t get impressed with outward appearances, coming forward in a messy, hamburger stained, fast food uniform is exactly what the manger is meant to represent. The Lord will meet anyone who just opens their heart, right where they’re at, right where we are at, and fill us with His grace, and love, when we just say yes to Christ.
Interestingly enough, even though Luther sought to communicate so that the ploughboy might understand, there were many also in the higher echelons of society touched by the Gospel as it was communicated by Luther.
One was Johann Sebastian Bach. The town of Eisenach had been a home, at times, for both Luther and Bach. Bach, one of the greatest classical composers ever, was hugely influenced by Martin Luther even though he lived in a later period than Luther. Luther’s writing on his own conversion as well as his theology had a great impact on Bach’s life. Luther said: “I learned theology through trial, temptations, and difficulties.” Bach was touched by God through Luther’s words and subsequently used over one hundred of Luther’s texts in his music.
Christ’s message of grace goes out to all, from the lowest to the highest: whosoever will may come. Bach’s life was touched by the Gospel through Luther, and Bach’s music continues to minister, even to this day. You’ll scarcely go to a wedding (even our own :) )without hearing Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desire.
Luther himself had unchained music from years of tradition. Previous to Luther, only choirs of monks sung Gregorian chants in church in Latin, and the congregation was not permitted to participate.
This was another thing Luther changed by introducing what were called originally Psalms in the vernacular, later called hymns. Luther made songs in the language of the people that were meant to be sung by the entire congregation, very much a revolutionary step at the time, and one that stuck and is practiced today in churches, fellowship meetings, Bible Studies, etc., all over the world.
One of the more famous hymns Luther wrote was A Mighty Fortress Is Our God about God our Protector amidst trial, tribulations, and spiritual battle.
Another hymn often attributed to Luther, is Away in a Manger. Luther wrote about the Incarnation extensively, and wrote a lot of music on this topic.
Our Lord is a mighty fortress who reigns in heaven and helps us amid trial and spiritual battle. He is also the gentle baby in the manger, willing to meet us right where we are in the midst of our brokenness and difficulty.
I remember one time when I was on my way to preach at a small church in Sweden, when I tripped, fell, and slid down a steep, muddy, grassy hill, as I was about to go into the service. Oh, what an unexpected wild ride that was. I was wet and covered in mud. There was no time to change, so I just went ahead and preached and ministered that way. A young lady later gave a prophetic word in the service, saying how the Lord isn’t looking at the outward appearance: being wet and muddy didn’t hinder the Holy Spirit working through our brother. The Lord isn’t like our pretentious culture that focuses so much on outward appearances. Rather, He sees the heart and meets us right where we are at and is there to comfort and minister to us whatever trial or difficulty we may find ourselves facing or “tripping” into.
Christ is always there to pick us up, minister to us, comfort us. Whosoever will can receive grace and mercy by just opening their heart.
We pray the Lord blesses you this Christmas and into the New Year, and that He fills you in a fresh way with the reality of His grace, mercy, and love!
Much love and many blessings!
and Patrick Marleaux
P.S. You can check other renditions of Christmas music we've also done by clicking here.