June 1, 2020 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 2:6-7 (NRSV)
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
What does it mean to follow one who was born in a manger? It does not mean that we must necessarily sleep on beds of straw. But it does mean that the one we follow will lead us in the way of humility. The same Jesus whose birth was so humble is the one whose death was designed to maximize humiliation. We follow Jesus by surrendering our preoccupation with comfort and honor, choosing instead to give ourselves away in service to God and others.
I’ll admit that it feels a little odd to be writing about the birth of Jesus in a devotion for the first day of June. After all, we’re almost as far away from Christmas as we get in the year. Yet, if allow the Gospel of Luke to teach us to follow Jesus today, then we ought to reflect on the story of the Nativity.
We know from the opening verses of Luke 2 that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because his human parents, Joseph and Mary, went there to registered with the Roman Empire. While in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor. She gave birth to Jesus, “her firstborn son” and “wrapped him in bands of cloth.” So far, there is nothing particularly unusual about this description. But then Luke adds that they “laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7).
If you were hearing this story for the first time, those details would be quite surprising. For one thing, newborn infants were not usually laid to rest in animal feeding troughs (the primary meaning of phatne, or “manger”). The mention of the manger suggests that the location where Jesus was born could have been a stable connected to a house, the lower floor of a house used mainly for animals, or a stand-alone stable or cave.
Why was Jesus born in such an odd place and put down in such an unusual cradle? Because, Luke explains, “there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7). As I read this, I can’t help but picture dozens of children’s Christmas pageants in which Mary and Joseph knock on a cardboard door labeled “Inn,” only to be turned away by a heartless young innkeeper with a fluffy fake beard. Though the innkeeper scene is historically possible, the Greek word translated here as “inn” (kataluma) could refer rather to the guest room of a home. If it was full of travelers needing to be registered, then the availability and privacy of the stable might have been preferable for all parties, even Mary and Joseph.
No matter the precise details, however, the birth of Jesus was assuredly humble. This is not what anyone would have expected for the baby identified by the angel Gabriel as “the Son of the Most High” and “Son of God” (Luke 1:32, 35). Such a humble birth does reflect, however, what was real about Jesus, who “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). The humility of Jesus’s birth foreshadows the even greater humility yet to come, when he chose to be executed in a way that was designed to maximize both humiliation and suffering (Philippians 2:8).
For most of us, following Jesus today will not mean we sleep in a bed intended for animals. But when we reflect on the birth of Jesus, we are forewarned. Following one from such humble beginnings will lead us in the path of humility, and this will not be easy. By God’s grace, our preoccupation with our own comfort and honor will be replaced by life of humble service both to God and to others.
As you think about the birth of Jesus, especially when so far removed from the usual celebrations of Christmas, what thoughts come to mind? What feelings? How do you respond to the simple story in Luke 2:1-7?
Whom in your life would you consider to be humble? What about how they live would you describe as humble? Why?
Would you say that you are a humble person? Why or why not?
What helps you to grow in humility?
Ask the Lord to show you one way to serve someone else humbly this week. Put the needs of that person ahead of your own needs. See if you can serve without worrying too much about yourself.
Lord Jesus, thank you for humbling yourself, becoming human, even accepting the manger as your first bed. Thank you for your willingness to enter into our reality, and to do so in a way that was so vulnerable and humble.
You know, Lord, that I’m not always a big fan of humility, especially when it comes to myself. I want to be the best. I want to be right. I want to be a person of influence. I don’t naturally desire to serve, to put others before myself, to reject my own desire for glory. Forgive me.
Yet, I want to follow you, Jesus, even in your humility. Help me to choose your way of living, to care, not about myself, but others. May I learn to serve even as you came to serve. To you be all the glory. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Do Your Work in a Worthy Manner (Philippians 1:27–2:11)
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.