Born in a Dog Bowl

Where were you born? I was born in a hospital here in Brisbane. I assume you were born in a hospital too. Or maybe you were born at home? But I think it’s safe to assume none of you were born and placed in a feeding-box. You might think that’s a bit of a random thing to say, but that’s exactly what happened to the Lord Jesus.

…She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. (Luke 2:7)

A manger is a feeding-box for animals. It’s like a dog bowl in that sense. My youngest boy, Bo, is obsessed with playing with our dog’s bowl at the moment. He puts her feed into the water bowl and plays with it. Yuck! I’m trying to stop it… well, was trying. But my guess is even if you’re one of those people who thinks germs make you stronger, you would never in a million years think of using a dog bowl as a cot for a newborn baby! Imagine it’s big enough for a moment. But even then, it’s too unhygienic, too dirty, too demeaning.

And yet if the Lord Jesus had of been born today, he could well have been placed in a dog bowl. That image should evoke something in us that’s close to what we should be feeling when we read about the manger. It was a very humble, even demeaning way to be born. Why did God order things so that his Son would be born in such lowly circumstances? What is he communicating to us through the birth of Jesus in this way?

Well, Luke’s Gospel has a particular focus on Jesus’ heart for outsiders. In fact, it’s the only Gospel where the manger is mentioned. In Luke 2:7, it tells us that Jesus was placed in the manger ‘because there was no guest room available for them’. It’s possible that Bethlehem was very busy, and people didn’t have space in their homes. But, I find that very unlikely. What kind of people would not make every effort possible to accommodate a woman in labour?!

I believe it’s more likely that word got around about the scandal of the pregnancy. Luke 2:5 tells us that Mary ‘was pledged to be married to (Joseph)’, so they were engaged but not married. And yet, she was pregnant, heavily pregnant! This was scandalous among Bible-believing (but self-righteous?) Israelites who knew sex was reserved for marriage. And so, the people of Bethlehem seemed to think shunning the young couple would teach everybody a lesson about keeping God’s Law. These are likely the circumstances that King Jesus was born into. He was born into a family who were looked down upon by the religious community. He was placed in a makeshift cot no less demeaning than a modern-day dog bowl. From the beginning of his life he was shunned as an outsider by the very people he had come to liberate.

This all serves to illustrate a truth. Jesus is the Saviour of outsiders. He is the humble King of outsiders! Your sin and brokenness won’t get you shunned by Jesus. They are the very things which he has come to save you from. This Christmas, remember that Jesus chose to come in some of the most humble and demeaning circumstances, so that we would never doubt his solidarity with the humble, the lowly, and the outsider. Later in his life he himself said, “all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted“ (Luke 14:11). Our sin does not exclude us from Jesus. It is the very thing which can enable us to humble ourselves and come to him for rescue. And this sinner certainly is grateful for that.

Grace and peace,