December 8, 2011 Devotion Sharing (Away in a Manger)

Submitted by Abe Y. from Gracepoint Riverside

What is it about Jesus being born into a manger that flows well with the warmth and affection toward him expressed in this hymn?

The hymn evokes imageries of this poor, helpless baby, lying there in the manger. Though there’s “no crib for a bed,” he is fast “asleep on the hay.” We can’t help but feel a great deal of sympathy for this baby. The warmth and affection is extended in Stanza 2, when the table is suddenly flipped: no longer do the “stars in the sky look down where He lay,” but it is he who “look down from the sky,” and we are the ones in the “cradle.” The parallel between Christ and us as expressed in the first two stanzas provides an additional layer of affection, because we know that he is not unaware of our own pain and suffering. After all, he has walked the same journey before.

What characterizes Caesar Augustus, and others like him today, i.e., the kings of the world?

Caesar Augustus had the power to move people all over the Roman world on a whim. It must have been an awesome sight, indeed, to see people suddenly go traveling about–moving entire families–on a dime. Isn’t this what characterizes Caesar and all those like him? They all attain a certain visible power, the power to physically uproot and move people. This characteristic hasn’t changed to our day and age.  We look up to the “Caesars” of this world if they have a certain power: power to absolve companies, power to hire us for a lot of money, power to grant us prestige.

What became of Caesar, and the power of the Roman Empire?

Not too long after this event, Caesar passed away, his body cremated. The glory of the Roman Empire would last for another four hundred years, before it too faded away. Today, the “glory of Rome” is in its ruins, a testament to its former days of wonder and amazement, a testament of an era long passed by.

What is the source of Jesus’ power?

The source of Jesus’ power does not come from any worldly title or prestige. How could it be?   He was born to a carpenter, after all. Rather, the source of his power comes from his obedience to the Father and the love for his people. Even though Jesus possessed these amazing abilities and power to make the lame walk, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak, and the blind to see, he never displayed them ostentatiously. In fact, it was quite the opposite.  When crowds came to him in hopes that he will perform some sort of miracle, rather than seeking for attention, he would often withdraw. However, when he saw need, real need, he moved towards such people: the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, the ten lepers, etc.

Unlike Caesar, his chief aim was to do the Father’s will. Had he played his cards right by befriending the Pharisees, being chummy with certain Roman guards, doing what the crowds would want him to do, he could have easily overtaken the throne. Yet, we don’t see him doing any of this.  Instead, he condemned the Pharisees, he caused many of his own disciples to disperse, and in the end, it was this very same crowd that turned against him. Rather than sitting comfortably at the palace looking down on the people, he eventually became fixated at another place looking down on the people: the cross. Even then, he had the power to call upon a legion of angels to free him. But to the end, he was not fixated on this kind of power.  He was attuned to a very different kind. It’s from the love of the Father that compelled him to embrace the cross. It was his genuine love for others that caused him to embrace the lowly and the weak. It was this love that kept him on the cross and gave him the power that he exhibited: utter self-restraint, utter self-denial.

What kind of life—Caesar vs. Jesus–am I aspiring to?

Isn’t it amazing that even within the church, we can try to play the role of Caesar? It shouldn’t be surprising as this was the kind of power sought after by the Pharisees. When I don’t check myself, I see myself easily playing the same game.

The kind of life I want to aspire to is that of Christ’s. And he laid out the rules and conditions so succinctly in Luke 9:23: If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

However, I find myself many times still trying on the role of Caesar, trying to put my will above God’s. The times I get envious because someone outperforms me, the way I become frustrated because someone doesn’t conform to my projections on my own timeline, the times I want to outshine in a certain area. Aren’t these all ways in which I strive to be more like Caesar, rather than to be like Christ?

PRAYER

O Lord, help me to become more and more like You. Let me be reminded that real power comes from obedience to You, that real power comes from a life poured out to others in love. Help me to live out the life that you lived, full of self-restraint, full of love for others, and a blatant disregard for your own personal desires of comfort. Help me, O Lord, to do the same — to continue to die to my Caesar-like self!

Submitted by Jasper C. from Gracepoint Riverside

What is it about Jesus being born into a manger that flows well with the warmth and affection toward him expressed in this hymn?

I think the expression of warmth and affection in this hymn is appropriate for Jesus’ birth because it captures the extent that God made himself very vulnerable and approachable to us. If you asked someone who did not know the gospel to imagine the idea of the Almighty God of the universe coming into the world, the picture that ordinarily comes to mind is one of a powerful being making a thunderous appearance in the sky.  That’s the natural conception of God’s appearance because the reality is that God is infinitely more powerful than us, he is the ultimate authority figure in our lives, and we actually have reason to fear because all of us are in some way guilty of violating his laws. However, the wonder of Christmas is that though God chose not to come into the world with a display of his power, compelling us to surrender to him, but he deliberately came in the form of the vulnerable baby Jesus – through whom God sought to win us over to him. We can sing about God incarnate with warmth and affection because God has dispelled any fear that we might have of him through the humble and vulnerable manner of his coming – it goes to show that God is not interested in forcing us into relationship with him, but that he wants us to freely choose to love him back.

Reflect on the poverty and precariousness of a baby born in a stable, and laid in a manger. Contrast that with Caesar Augustus, whose decree caused all the Roman world scrambling to register for the census.

If you were to rank everybody in the world at the time based on wealth and power I think Caesar Augustus would rank first and baby Jesus could arguably rank among the last. The condition of a helpless baby being born in a stable and laid in a manger in the middle of rural Palestine really does sit on the complete opposite end of the power spectrum to Caesar Augustus, the ruler of the Roman Empire and the greatest human authority of his time. As demonstrated by the census decree, whatever Caesar says ends up being the reality that millions of people must conform to, whereas a baby does not even have the means of surviving a couple of days on his own. It’s so ironic that two thousand years later, we know that Jesus Christ has far surpassed Caesar Augustus in power and influence, there are millions of followers of Jesus Christ today while Caesar ceased to have any followers at all the moment he died. The principles of this world regarding power and influence seem to be completely irrelevant to God’s reality.

What characterizes Caesar Augustus, and others like him today, i.e., the kings of the world?  

Caesar Augustus is characterized by power through fear and coercion. He is the ruler of the Roman Empire not because people willingly admire and obey him, but because he wields the ability to destroy anyone who does not obey him–people submit to him because they don’t want to be destroyed. To some extent, all kings and rulers of this world are characterized by this kind of fear-inspiring power, even to this day. We submit to their authority because bad things will happen to us if we don’t.  Furthermore, the theme of fear applies to Caesar as well–since he rules by violence he himself is must fear the possibility that someone could seize power and violently overthrow him as well. There’s no way that he could guarantee always being the most powerful, so he must live in a constant state of fear and insecurity from his enemies.

What became of Caesar, and the power of the Roman Empire?

Caesar eventually died and the powerful Roman Empire eventually collapsed after a few hundred years to the point where they have no effect on our lives whatsoever apart from the fact that we learn about them. In fact, Caesar’s power and influence came to end almost immediately when he died because people no longer had to fear and obey him.

What is the source of Jesus’ power?

Jesus’ power does not come from fear and coercion, but instead it comes from love. He doesn’t compel people to obey him, rather he has won them over and people willingly obey him.

What kind of life—Caesar vs. Jesus–am I aspiring to?

I think there’s a part of me that gets caught up in aspiring to a Caesar-like life–I want to gain power and influence through my capabilities, to make people respect me because I am good at something, or to be wealthy enough that I can afford to pay for things to go my way. One way that comes out is in my desire to accomplish something impressive in my career.  The reasoning is that if I can get a certain title or manage something big, people will look at that and give me respect. The flipside of that is that I end up having to look around at how other people are doing, and I’m constantly insecure about being outshined by someone else who’s better than me at what I’m doing. It leads to greater and greater insecurity and isolation from other people. I recognize that this is actually a miserable way to live, and that going after the world’s definition of power and success is ultimately unfulfilling. However, I know that this is not the only way to live because I personally know of faithful Christians who have given up opportunities to advance themselves in this world in order to serve and care for others.  I’ve been a recipient of their love through the meals they shared with me, time taken out of their schedule to counsel me or impart advice, and in general living life with me, letting me take up room in their lives that they could have devoted to themselves instead. They’ve had a tremendous impact on me and inspired me to also live a life striving to love others and to be generous with my time and money, to live a life valuing relationships and people above personal achievement.

Submitted by Ernestine L. from Gracepoint Riverside Church

What is it about Jesus being born into a manger that flows well with the warmth and affection toward him expressed in this hymn?
Jesus being born into a manger flows well with the warmth and affection expressed toward him in this hymn because it displays that great picture of humility. There is something about Jesus, the King of kings, being born into the lowliest of places that really draws our heart. He is not born behind palace gates or into great royalty, but instead into a manger which was meant to be a feeding trough for animals. He draws no attention to Himself from the great or from the powerful. There is no display of triumph in this picture, and yet in God’s eyes the plan for a different kind of triumph has already begun through this miraculous birth. In this, we can see God’s willingness to descend to reach all mankind. He is willing to send Christ into our midst, into the cold night being birthed into such poor conditions, into this world through His servant Mary. There is a deep response and sense of love and affection for baby Jesus that would perhaps be very different if He were to have received all the wealth, power and riches of this world. There is something so welcoming and approachable about this scene; that is why the warmth and affection is so fitting and well suited.

Reflect on the poverty and precariousness of a baby born in a stable, and laid in a manger. Contrast that with Caesar Augustus, whose decree caused all the Roman world scrambling to register for the census.

The poverty and precariousness of a baby born into a stable and laid in a manger provides such a stark contrast with the description of Caesar Augustus, whose decree caused all the Roman world to scramble to register for the census in that there is such a sense of vulnerability, peace and humility here. There is no security, no sense of solid protection from what may happen to the baby Christ. There in the stable lay God’s gift to mankind. And yet on the other hand we have the Caesar, driven with a thirst for power and a desire to gain something for himself in this world, desiring to accumulate something for himself. Christ came into this world to offer His life, and yet He lay there not asking anything of anyone. Still the shepherds came to worship Him and the Magi sought Him out. For Caesar, there is only a sense of worldly fear or bitterness that exists towards him. There is no desire, whatsoever, to do what the Caesar decrees out of a loving heart. The residents did not want to, but they had to against their will, travelling hundreds of miles to get registered. Again, the picture of Christ in the midst of this chaos, being carried in the womb of Mary and along the long and winding journey to Bethlehem is a picture that elicits our awe and gratitude. 

What characterizes Caesar Augustus, and others like him today, i.e., the kings of the world? 

What characterizes Caesar and others like him today is power and demanding authority. Whatever he issued would be carried out. He offers no freedom and no option. It is only his way or punishment or even death. It is this unwillingness to see things any other way, unwillingness to consider what all these people need to go through in order for his decree to be carried out. He strikes fear into people’s hearts and is relentless about his demand. There is no sign of mercy or grace. There is this seemingly urgent need to build up his power and kingdom, to have everyone else bow down to them, to treat the Jews as second-tier beings, to pat themselves on the back for being born into the Roman world, not recognizing what they’ve been given has been from God. Similarly, the kings of the world also run by this kind of worldly hierarchy with exclusiveness.  If you were born without certain privileges, then it’s too bad. What keeps them in this kind of position and power is only what they have before them–their possessions and status–but these do not last forever.

What became of Caesar, and the power of the Roman Empire?

Caesar and all of the Roman Empire fell. All that’s left of their once powerful and seemingly infallible legacy are the great ruins that many tourists go to Italy to view from time to time. There’s not much greatness now. No average person is familiar even with the names of the famous or powerful rulers of the Roman Empire, but to call upon the name of Jesus–now even the average non-believer has heard of Jesus. The Roman Empire is but a chapter in our history books. What the Caesar once thought was a powerful attempt to gain for himself the entire kingdom, to store up for himself treasures and a name, has all been overshadowed by the greater power we’ve seen throughout the ages of the living Christ who has demonstrated transformation in people’s hearts and lives for ages up until the very present day.

What is the source of Jesus’ power?

The source of Jesus’ power is God alone. He came from God above, was delivered into this world through a miraculous circumstance, and would not have been bestowed as a gift if it were not for God and His decision to love mankind so greatly. The source of Jesus’ power far surpasses that of Caesar’s which was merely his worldly wealth, fear-inducing name, and the seemingly insurmountable kingdom he had amounted for himself. His power crumbled because the source was unstable. He relied on himself and what he had, when all along he missed the greatest provider of all things. Jesus was backed up by the Creator God, who made possible all things. How could there be any greater source of power? God is the source of all power. What Caesar had was not power – what he had was what he and this world thought gave him that power.

What kind of life—Caesar vs. Jesus–am I aspiring to?

The kind of life I find myself so often aspiring to is that of Caesar’s, one in which I am constantly demanding something of others, of this world. I do not seek to gain the kind of life Jesus came to demonstrate–a life of humility, of giving up oneself, of descending in order to relate to others, to draw them in through quiet obedience and humility. The life I aspire to live is a life filled with my desires to be seen, desires for attention, to gain recognition, status. It is a desire to be made something in this world. However, as I gaze upon Jesus’ life the way He entered this world as a vulnerable newborn baby in a stable but possessed the greatest power mankind would ever behold–the power to give life, I recognize the need to align my aspiration with that of someone who has genuinely surrendered her life to Christ, who has been humbled by God’s truth of who she is, who finds utterly futile a life rendered to this world. That is when I aspire to live a life like that of Jesus, surrendered, offered up in humble gratitude, not seeking any longer to establish oneself in this world, not demanding anything of mankind, of others.

Prayer

Lord, I praise You for delivering Your Son, offering Him to mankind so vulnerable and susceptible to the dangers of this world. I thank You that Your heart aches for us to know You, so much so that You delivered Your Son as an answer to our deepest voids. I am amazed by Your glory and might that lasts forever, surpassing even the Roman Empire and all the kingdoms of this world that are no more. Lord, with Your power, I have set aside the kingdoms I once aspired to because they are meaningless. Father, with this said, I pray a prayer of commitment to let my aspiration be transformed, to no longer thirst for this world and the power it seemingly offers, but to seek after Your life that lasts forever.

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