Jesus was born in a manger, because that is where lambs are born.
Bethlehem shepherds were not just any shepherds tending sheep. They were descendants of David, tending “David’s flock”-sheep destined for the temple (sacrifice). Jerusalem was only a short two miles from those Bethlehem slopes. You may even think of Bethlehem shepherds as outsourced employees of the temple, royal shepherds.
If truth be told, the center of religious life in Judaism was the massive slaughter of animals. According to the Torah, every day two lambs were required for sacrifice in the temple. That’s 730 lambs each year.
The practice of the sacrifice of lambs was so common to the Jews that they missed it when the Lamb of God was slain for the sins of the world. The practice of the sacrifice of lambs is so foreign to us Christians that we miss it when something speaks of the Lamb of God, who was slain for the sins of the world.
Christ’s whole birth spoke loud and clear of His reason for coming into the world.
Bethlehem’s priestly shepherds had to learn and follow special techniques and rituals during the lambing season. Bethlehem lambs born for slaughter were special lambs. To prevent harm and self-injury from thrashing about after birth on their spindly legs, newborn lambs were wrapped in swaddling cloths. Then they were placed in a manger or feeding trough, where they could calm down out of harm’s way.
The shepherds who gathered around the Bethlehem stable where the Lamb of God was born were not witnessing anything new, except who was in the manger: the most important sacrificial Lamb who had ever been born, the perfect Lamb of God.
I wonder if it clicked for them. Or did they hear John exclaim, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and it click then?
As we turn our attention to the birth of our King, the arrival of God in flesh, I’m especially aware this year of the Lamb. His beginning AND His ending:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.” -Revelation 5:11-12
These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful. – Revelation 17:14
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready. -Revelation 19:7
*Quotes that aren’t scripture are from Jesus: A Theography by Frank Viola and Leonard Sweet.