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And laid him in a manger

1 year ago

Revd Anne Roberts has us thinking about what God might be asking us to lay down in this season.

Learning English as a foreign language is not easy, or so my international friends tell me.

This blog began to percolate at the start of November, when I spoke to someone about laying a wreath. Her bemused expression told me that I would need to explain these English words. Wreath was easy ….. lay was complicated.

The only time that my friend had previously used the word “lay” was in the context of eggs. So, what does it mean to lay something? A dictionary definition speaks of intentionally placing something flat, in a careful, gentle or neat way. Lay is a transitive verb, needing a person or thing to be part of the action. So we might lay a table, a fire, a lawn, a paper trail, …..and so on. Past tense is “laid”, as in “we laid the table for supper”. We can picture the careful actions required for the examples above. The trouble is, once a word like this gets highlighted in your head, you then start to see and hear it in all manner of places. Well, that is what happens to me……

Can you sing the 1973 song by the Strawbs  “Lay down, I lay me down”? Bridge over Troubled Water 1970 by Simon and Garfunkel? If you are under 50 go to YouTube and have a listen.

Can you recite the scary Children’s Prayer from 1737

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

Under the current covid restrictions, we must not lay hands on people when we pray for them….

See what I mean?

Then, as I started to prepare for Christmas services, I saw it again in Luke 2 “…she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

Mary intentionally, carefully, neatly, gently laid her newborn son in a feeding trough! The Christ-child laid in a borrowed manger. How absurd. It was not sensible or advisable. But it was necessary. A temporary safe resting place for her precious son’s body.

In the same way, God coming from heaven to earth as a fragile baby, born to poor parents in a country under Roman occupation, does not appear to be the neatest or most sensible of salvation plans. But it was necessary. For a temporary period, God needed to walk on earth. For this child grew into the adult Messiah and said “I lay down my life for my sheep” (John 10).  He was to be the means of salvation. His death on a cross would open the way for all people to find forgiveness and acceptance by a holy God. “No one comes to the Father except through me”.  (John 14)

In 1 John 3:16 we read “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  We hear echoes of the words used in November at the Remembrance services from John 15 “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Jesus chose the cross, intentionally laying down his life, making the ultimate sacrifice, all because he loved us.

We are told that Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus’ broken body down from the cross, wrapped it in cloths, and laid him in a new tomb. A temporary resting place for the precious son of Mary’s body.

If we take a step back, and look afresh, we see that at the bookends of Jesus’ earthly life, he is wrapped in cloth by loving hands and then carefully, gently, intentionally laid flat, first in a manger and then in a tomb.

Both were temporary resting places, for a mother’s loving hands lifted Jesus from the manger and carried him into childhood, and a heavenly Father’s loving hands raised Jesus from the dead, and carried him, and his scars, into glory. The second bookend was toppled, death was defeated and the story continues, for Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

So, as we follow Jesus in our earthly life, we may sometimes be asked to lay down things that are precious to us …..our plans, our ambitions, our control, our relationships, our possessions, our time, and more. We learn, usually gradually, that this can lead to freedom and empty hands that can receive more than we ever imagined.

And one day, when we too are carried into glory by loving hands, we can join with those who lay their crowns before the throne (Revelation 4:10) and thank our Lord for laying down his life for us.

My nocturnal musings on this verb led to this conclusion. We may not be called to lay down our lives, but what might God be asking us to lay down in this season? Why not pause and ponder that question?

I am learning to intentionally lay down my plans, my lists, my expectations, my perceived control of so many things. To come to God with open hands day by day and trust him to give me what I need just for those few hours. I can’t say that I like it, or that I am finding it easy. But I ask that the Holy Spirit will guide my actions, my thoughts, my writing, my praying, my hopes for the future.


Revd Anne Roberts

ReSource Minister

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"'To know that God wants me, even though I feel broken'"
Elaine Farnworth, Living in the Spirit, Foxhill House Retreat participant