The manger is a symbol of how the most fragile and helpless of creatures – a newborn child is more powerful than all the royal armies of the world and the ambitions of Satan.
The manger was the sign, not the star, given to the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12) A sign is something visual, physical. A wedding ring is a sign of marriage. The rainbow was a sign to Noah. The star was a sign for the wisemen and the Sabbath day is a sign for all mankind. When the shepherds saw the infant, baby, Jesus, laying in a manger they immediately knew and would then witness the message of the angel was authentic and true.
A Stone Manger
In his book, “Stone Manger: The Untold Story of the First Christmas” Jeffrey R. Chadwick explains how the manger was made of white limestone. Joseph would have used it as a water trough for his donkey. Limestone was and is very plentiful in Palestine where wood is not. He also describes how there would not be any hay in the manger or around it for that is not how they fed their animals – there was plenty of grass fields outside the city.
Symbol of Obedience
Joseph Brickey, in his illustrated book, “When Jesus Was Born in Bethlehem”, stated, “The manger, carved of stone, not of wood, was a symbol of obedience in ancient Israel. Cradled in a stone manger in the humblest of settings, the Babe of Bethlehem came not to be the king of substance but to be the King of souls.” Christ was obedient to The Father in all things including offering himself for a sacrifice for sin upon a stone table or altar.
Given to Eat
In French, the word manger means ‘to eat.” Jesus was laid in a manger not to literally be eaten, but symbolically to be internalized.
When we partake of the sacrament we are internalizing his teachings, his example and accepting him as our Savior and Father of our Eternal Life.
He is the ultimate Passover Lamb. “The unblemished lambs, whose blood was used as a sign to save Israel anciently, are a symbol of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, whose sacrifice redeemed all mankind.” (see Passover lamb in the Bible Dictionary)
At each ancient sacrifice at least a portion was “given to eating”. In the Sin and Burnt Offerings the Priest, representing Christ, would eat symbolizing His love and acceptance of the offering. In the Peace Offering the offeror would share the cooked meat with family and friends. It was a time of rejoicing and forgiving.
Symbol of the Savior
With these insights many images of the Savior come to mind:
- Christ, laying in a manger, was a sign and a message for us all
- Christ, the Rock of our Salvation, was first laid in a rock
- Christ, the Living Water, was first laid in a water trough
- Christ, the Passover Lamb, was first laid in a place of nourishment
- Christ, the Ultimate Sacrifice, was first laid on a stone, like an altar
The symbol of the manger assures us that we need not fear the world with all its evil, when Christ is with us. “Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me.” (D&C 50:41)