A Way in a Manger

the manger+

I chipped a friend’s china plate as I struggled to put it on the counter. My arms are failing and I can’t quite gauge what I can and cannot do. I wanted to help clean up, to make things easier, but instead I made things worse.

I spiraled downward after that, regretting going to her house in the first place. When I surrendered my life to Christ, I felt He was going to use me. But I expected to serve out of my strengths. Not my weaknesses.  It’s hard to serve when you feel inadequate.

In the midst of my disappointments, I started reading the Christmas story, trying to imagine how Mary felt.

For Mary, carrying the Son of God was costly. No one would have believed she was a virgin. Her premarital pregnancy was scandalous, bringing disgrace to everyone affected. Yet God had called her to this. He had entrusted her with carrying His precious Son who would reign over the house of Jacob forever.

Mary had been given an incredible honor. So she might have expected something notable to happen before Jesus’s birth. Earthly kings had fanfare associated with them. How much more the Son of God?

So Mary may have felt disheartened as she trudged, in the last stages of pregnancy, to Bethlehem, about eighty miles away.  With no one to help her but Joseph, her betrothed.  The Bible does not mention her even having the donkey we like to imagine her riding.

Where was Joseph’s family? They must have gone to Bethlehem for the census too, but they don’t appear to have accompanied the young couple. Were Mary and Joseph not welcome with the rest of his family? All we are told was that the couple went together with nowhere to sleep but a stable.

And as she was delivering Jesus, did Mary wonder why God had not intervened? Scripture does not record that this birth was anything other than ordinary. Messy, bloody, the way all babies are born. And then wrapped in swaddling cloths according to the custom.

And where to lay him? In such a familial society, surely most women would be surrounded by relatives, eager to rock a newborn baby. But Mary and Joseph were alone and exhausted. So where in a draughty stable of beasts do you lay your newborn infant?

They chose a manger. A crude feeding trough for animals. It was the best they could do under the circumstances.

I wonder what Mary thought as she placed Jesus in a manger. Was she hesitant to put him there? Did it feel safe? Did she and Joseph have to shoo the animals away as they came to the manger in search of food? Did seeing the manger highlight for her the desperation of her situation?  As she watched her sleeping baby, did she wonder if this was really what God had planned?

And then the shepherds came. They told the young couple all that had happened. Angels proclaimed his birth and sang of God’s glory.

It must have thrilled Mary to hear the shepherds account. Though she and Joseph had been alone at his birth, heaven had been rejoicing. And the heavenly host had sent the shepherds to come and worship Jesus, confirmation that her sleeping baby was indeed the Son of God.

And how did the shepherds find them? How did they know it was the Savior?

The manger. The shepherds knew it was the Christ-child because of the manger. That was their sign from God. The angels had said, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There might have been other babies born in Bethlehem that night. And they may have been wrapped in swaddling cloths. But no other child would have been laid in a manger.

This manger, this messy, dirty, smelly feeding trough, was the sign that God used to show the shepherds where the Savior lay.

Signs in the Bible were significant. Gideon’s sign was the wet fleece and dry ground and vice versa. Hezekiah’s sign was the shadow that went backward. And Ahaz’s sign was that a virgin would conceive. All of these were miraculous. Extraordinary. And unnatural.

And so as Mary put Jesus into the manger, it must have felt unnatural for her as well. No one would expect to find a baby in a manger. Let alone the Son of God. It was as remarkable as the other signs.

When the shepherds told Mary of their “sign,” it must have been an amazing confirmation for her. One that she treasured. The manger had been God-ordained all along. She hadn’t escaped God’s notice.

Perhaps Mary needed a sign just as much as the shepherds. To know that she was in God’s will. That God was still with her. That she was being used by God.

We all need that sign. We want confirmation. In our natural world, we think confirmation of our decisions is that things go well. They fall into place. They get tied up with a bow.

But what if the confirmation in the kingdom of God is that things get increasingly hard? The opposite of what we wanted? More humbling than we ever expected?

What if the confirmation is that God is with us in our desolate places? What if the confirmation is the manger? 

When our dreams and plans are falling apart, and our life feels humble and obscure when we were hoping for something prettier, maybe we are exactly where God wants us to be. Where He can use us most.

So as I mourn my weakness and disappointments, I remember the manger. My suffering is not glamorous. No one’s suffering is. It’s messy and painful and humbling. And yet God is glorified in it.

The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring Him the greatest glory. God’s kingdom is upside down. The last shall be first, the weak shall be strong, and the foolish shall shame the wise.

And God incarnate will be laid in a manger.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!


  • December 17, 2015 - 7:33 pm

    Annemarie - Bless you Vaneetha! I never leave comments, but I felt compelled to let you know that I am a faithful reader of your blog, and you have brought so me so much peace. Whatever you choose to write about is exactly what I need to hear and share. Thank you, bless you faithful servant of God!ReplyCancel

    • December 17, 2015 - 8:24 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you so much for your encouragement, Annemarie!ReplyCancel

  • December 18, 2015 - 9:02 am

    Mona - This was beautiful and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for this amazing reminder.ReplyCancel

  • December 18, 2015 - 12:35 pm

    Trudy - I’ve been thinking a lot of Mary lately, longing to have her willing heart to give her whole self over into God’s hands and His will for her. I love your reflection here, Vaneetha. I especially love your insight about the manger – “The manger highlights the way God uses our deepest pain, our humiliation, the things we wish were different, the despised and the lowly, to bring Him the greatest glory. ” Thank you so much for this encouragement! I’m so sorry you struggle daily, Vaneetha, but I do thank God for you. I believe He is using you in such a beautiful way at your blog. I think that without your struggles, you would not have the deep insight you’re given. God has only recently led me to your blog, but He has used you to bless me. Thank you for serving Him. May God give you a Christmas filled with His love and peace!ReplyCancel

  • December 18, 2015 - 3:17 pm

    Carolyn - I love these thoughts, Vaneetha—a real gift to me in the midst of my own weakness. Thank you so much for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • December 18, 2015 - 7:13 pm

    Nancy Miller - Vaneetha,
    What a tremendous Christmas gift this is! Thank you for sharing your extraordinary gift of communication and your intimate walk with Christ. You are blessing to so many.

  • December 19, 2015 - 12:46 am

    Aurelia - Vaneetha, please consider writing a book or at least compiling your blog enteries into a book format. You are an exceptionally gifted writer whom the Lord has chosen to use as an instrument of encouragement in the lives of others. Your words are being used to speak Truth. They especially resonate deeply in my own heart. Your pain/suffering is not being wasted.!! Thank you for the deep waters of affliction and pain you have persevered through. You are the woman you are precisely because the Lord has used your excruciating trials to remove the dross and to bring glory to Himself. Press on dear sister and continue to run the race for the prize that awaits you in the end!! You will not be disappointed!!ReplyCancel

    • December 21, 2015 - 12:23 pm

      Vaneetha - Thank you, Aurelia. I’m praying about writing a book– so this was a great encouragement!ReplyCancel

  • December 19, 2015 - 8:20 pm

    Trevor Dean - Hi Vaneetha, I do understand what you are saying and it is upside down to the world. Appreciate your dedication.

    • December 21, 2015 - 12:21 pm

      Vaneetha - Its funny how much the kingdom of God is upside down. As I press into that, it really is a comfort.ReplyCancel

  • December 22, 2015 - 1:20 pm

    Tamara - I loved this. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • December 22, 2015 - 8:53 pm

    Believe | this lovable life - […] This is beautiful. […]ReplyCancel

  • December 25, 2015 - 7:19 am

    Elaine Steil - It’s very early this Christmas morning. I found your blog unexpectedly, what a gift. I’m someone who likes to think on things and your words afforded me the opportunity to do so. Thank you for sharing your struggles and being real. Manger life. I am going to keep thinking about those words. Merry Christmas and BLESSINGS galore.ReplyCancel

  • December 25, 2015 - 7:33 pm

    bridget - Vaneetha – thank you for this beautiful and thought-provoking devotion. I was blessed and encouraged (and shared!) how the Christmas story was so very inconvenient, hard, painful, confusing… Those who were right in the middle of God’s will had the most reason to question His methods. Thanks for the reminder of Isaiah 55:9-10 that His ways are not our ways.
    Merry Christmas!ReplyCancel

  • January 5, 2016 - 5:34 pm

    Alicia - As I read this I also wondered some of those same questions. Thank you for your openness and willingness to show us your weakness. I too was the famous workaholic, always doing the right things, bring home the most money and then I took a job in another state and my world began to come apart. I have had two surgeries, one that has limited my mobility and is a constant reminder of my weakness. I’m still only 60% of what I was but God is faithful, teaching me lessons that I probably would haven’t paid attention to if I wasn’t in this state. Thank you for being my ram in the bush?ReplyCancel

    • January 6, 2016 - 6:35 pm

      Vaneetha - Thanks for writing, Alicia. I’m sorry for all you’ve been through but I’m grateful for your faith, glorifying God in the midst of your struggles!ReplyCancel

  • December 20, 2016 - 1:27 pm

    Juliano Souza Silva - Simply wonderful. I thank God for your life. God is using your life to encourage us.
    God bless You.ReplyCancel

  • December 24, 2016 - 9:19 am

    Christmas Eve and The Christ Candle - UpBeat Living - […] As we strive to create the perfect Christmas for our families, we need reminded that the first Christmas was not “perfect” in any worldly sense. Vaneetha Rendall Risner wrote a post titled “A Way In A Manger.” Perhaps Mary was confused that God did not intervene so that Jesus could be born somewhere better. The angels told the shepherds to look for a baby lying in a manger. This was the “sign” that their savior had arrived and no one would expect to find a baby in a feed trough, especially not the savior of the world. You can read her post here: http://danceintherain.com/2015/12/17/806/ […]ReplyCancel

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