Nothing can be set in greater contrast: Mary wraps the Messiah, the One destined to wipe the slate clean and restore Israel and bring good news to the whole world, in swaddling cloths and places him in a manger. Messiah’s don’t sleep in mangers, and Caesars don’t enter the world in humble ways. Meanwhile, outside shepherds join in the angelic chorus and here is what is said:
“I bring you good news of (1) great joy (2) that will be for all people.
Today in the town of David (3) a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”
But, as the angel speaks such things, there’s not one bit of evidence to suggest the declaration is true. The baby who was promised to be Messiah is asleep in a manger because there was no room for him in the “Inn” (or “guest room” or “sleeping quarters”). [The point here is probably not that Jesus was taken outside into a barn, or that Mary and Joseph were sleeping in a barn, but that they were in a peasant’s dwelling where there was a sleeping room with guests, but that the room was full of family guests and there was not enough room there to set up a place for Jesus, so they had to lay baby Jesus in an animal feeding-trough. Such a manger would have been adjacent to the sleeping quarters. In other words, and this is hardly new information, this was a peasant’s home and this is how they did things. We need not imagine rejection of a pregnant woman.]
The angel is not alone; suddenly a chorus of angels sings:
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth (4) peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
Peace on earth, but the Messiah is asleep in the manger.
The shepherds decide that the angel’s message and the angels’ declaration is worth a look. So they rush off to Bethlehem, find the baby, still in a manger. Odd, isn’t it, to find the Messiah in a manger?
So they dedicate themselves to telling everyone; everyone is amazed.
Mary, too, must be amazed — amazed that the Messiah is in a manger asleep.
The shepherds continue to praise God for what they have seen: angelic announcements about the Messiah’s redemptive work, but the Messiah is asleep in a manger. Here is what John Nolland calls the “paradox of divine condescension.”
The baby is destined for Messianic work, but his plate is already being filled with odd bits that show the Messiah’s work will be anything but what was expected.
And what must have shocked readers: the announcement of the birth of Jesus as good news must be a trumpet-blast of a contrast to Caesar Augustus, who was then the ruler of the world. Caesar struts around Rome, Jesus asleep in a manger — the tide will eventually turn. Rome will become known for its commitment to Jesus and Caesar’s palace will be nothing but ruins. Peace, the watchword of Caesar, will come not by military might but by the Cross.