Today in the town of David, a Savior was born for you.
He is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you:
You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
The significance of the shepherds and the manger in the Christmas story is quite profound, but often overlooked. Even though we are heading into February, this significance is worth highlighting while Christmas is still fresh in your mind.
The flocks of Bethlehem had significance.
For centuries, the fields of Bethlehem were used to raise lambs intended for the special purpose of sacrifice in the temple. According to the Torah, two lambs without blemish were required for daily sacrifice in the temple. This means 730 lambs were needed for sacrifice each year – in addition to the many thousands required for the annual Passover celebration and other religious festivals. These temple flocks were never crammed into crowded sheepfold where they might be injured or scarred by fighting with other sheep. That would disqualify them from sacrifice! They were given the privilege of free-grazing in the Bethlehem countryside, guarded by purified and temple-trained shepherds. These flocks were significant because they were intended for sacrifice!
The manger had significance.
There was a watchtower in this region of Bethlehem known as “Migdal Eder” which means “Tower of the Flock”. The exact location of this tower is unknown today. This ancient tower is referred to in Genesis 35:21 as a place where Jacob pitched his tents after burying his wife Rachel in Bethlehem (Ephrath). Additionally, the prophet Micah, who famously forecasted Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, references such a tower in his Messianic prophecies:
“As for you, watchtower of the flock (Migdal Eder), stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem” (Micah 4:8).
The Christmas shepherds were well acquainted with the Tower of the Flock. During lambing season, the shepherds of Bethlehem brought the temple sheep out of the fields to the lower level of the tower, where ewes would give birth to their lambs. Once birthed, the shepherds placed the lambs in the hewn depression of rock known as “the manger” (see picture above) and wrapped the newborn lambs in swaddling cloths to prevent them from thrashing about and harming themselves. When they calmed down, the shepherds inspected whether they were “without spot or blemish” as required for temple sacrifice. The manger was significant because it held and protected the sacrificial lambs!
Who was placed in the manger had significance.
When the angels directed the shepherds to go to “the manger” where they would find “a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths” I think that they knew exactly where to go. It was likely the manger in the base of the Tower of the Flock. They didn’t wander about town. “They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger”, just as the angel had said. It is quite reasonable to picture the newborn Jesus in the manger of the birthing room of Migdal Eder wrapped in the swaddling cloths used on the lambs brought there for inspection before sacrifice.
The manger is a profound statement of who Jesus is and a beautiful foreshadowing of what he came to do. John the Baptist would soon point to Jesus and exclaim, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Jesus is the Son of God who came into this world to be the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin that mankind needed. Jesus was treated as a sacrificial lamb at his birth and would soon be “led like a lamb to the slaughter” as Isaiah prophesied. In just 33 short years, Jesus was sacrificed on the cross of Calvary as the full and complete payment for your sin and mine. And he declared the sacrifice for sin “Finished!” The Lamb placed in that manger on the first Christmas has eternal significance for you and for me!
You have significance.
Do you ever feel insignificant? Perhaps you feel your role in life lacks meaning, your best efforts end in failure, or you just don’t like yourself. Everyone battles feelings of insignificance at times. When the Devil whispers lies in your ear and coerces you to feel insignificant, remember the manger and realize how significant you really are. Your all-powerful God left his throne of glory and took on flesh to save you with his suffering and death. You are THAT important. You are THAT significant to him. He didn’t do that for any other part of his fallen Creation. But he did it for you. You matter to God. You ARE significant through Jesus.
God grant that you find your significance in the manger of Bethlehem.
Written by Staff Minister Brent Bitter