by Brandon Shuman
The three humblest instruments of Christian Joy are a Manger, a Wash Basin, and a Cross.
The first is a feed trough for animals. The second is a lowly servant’s bowl for wiping filth from other people’s feet. And the last is a socially stigmatizing and torturously cruel device for executing criminals. Three very different objects. Each playing a distinct role in the life of our Savior. Each an emblem of Joy.
The Manger as a Christian emblem of Humble Joy
When God left the comforts of Heaven and was born into our world, He was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a Manger. How strange must it have felt to be stung by the cold night’s air on His mortal skin? How helpless must it have been for the One who spoke worlds into existence to be able to do no more than let out an inarticulate wail? The Summoner of Angels, Ruler over all Principalities, God Himself was now entirely dependent upon others to meet His every need. And yet He came to meet humanity’s deepest need.
When God came to earth that Bethlehem night, He had stripped Himself of His divine majesty so that the World could be made Flesh. And the Manger is the symbolic portal whereby God humbled Himself to leave Heaven and enter our desperate world. His nearness is a great comfort. His presence is peace. His message is love. And the salvation He brings is our joy.
The Wash Basin as a Christian emblem of Humble Joy
Everyone wants to be great, but only Jesus showed us the way. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” The teachings and actions of Jesus depicted the ways of Heaven. He showed us how to live. Christ is our example of how true greatness looks. And He bids us be great by following His example.
On the night He was betrayed, after the meal was served, Jesus rose from the table and grabbed a Wash Basin. And He began washing His disciples’ feet. The Master of all was Servant to all. Our Bethlehem-born Lord showed them that true greatness is attained not by exalting oneself above those more lowly than themselves, but by humbly meeting their needs. And in this is attainment of greatness there is great joy.
The Cross as a Christian emblem of Joy
God was made man so that He could suffer and die on man’s behalf. Where is joy in suffering? Where is there joy in rejection, cruelty, and death? The One who left Heaven for a Bethlehem Manger would die on a Roman Cross.
But the joy Christ found was not in the sufferings and shame of the Cross – these He scorned and despised. It was not the Cross, but the joy set before Him that lay beyond the Cross that delighted our Savior. It was the Joy of Resurrection and the new life it gave to a dying creation. It was the joy of the reward awaiting Him when He returned to Heaven. It was the joy of pleasing His Father who loved Him dearly. The Cross was the instrument where Christ became the Suffering Servant who redeemed the cosmos. His obedience led to the greatest joy.
The Manger. The Wash Basin. And the Cross.
This Advent we are to find our greatness and joy through humbly serving one another. As our Lord washed the feet of those who followed Him, so too ought we wash the feet of those around us. (This is living out Romans 12.)
This Advent we are called to pick up the crosses set before us and follow our Lord; to surrender all our claims for His sake; to fix our eyes on Jesus and, like Him, despise the suffering and shame for the joy He sets before us. (Luke 9:23-26, Hebrews 12:1-2)
And this Advent some people are hurting that desperately need God’s love to be humbly born in the depths of their despair. We are called to bring the joyful news and comforts by entering the brokenness through the mangers of opportunity. (This is Philippians 2:4-11.)
And may we too be instruments of Christ’s joy to a joyless and Christ-less world.
Whose feet are you washing?
What are you doing with the crosses laid before you today?
In whose name are you bearing them?
What mangers are you humbly entering?
To whom are you sharing God’s joyful light and becoming the embodiment of His love?