Manger Muscle

Small beginnings, big results.

Small Beginnings (1)

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3.8

This little Babe
A Child is born. 

The only birth announcement is to a group of lonely shepherds, huddled against the cold night. 

Circumstances made it necessary for the parents of the Child to be far from home and family. To satisfy the whim of a far-off politician who had determined to measure his greatness by the number of subjected peoples he ruled, they, like everyone else, had to return to their ancestral home to be counted. The mother’s condition meant that the couple had to travel more slowly than others making the journey, so they arrived later than most, after all the available rooms had been rented. 

They took their repose in a stable, and when the Child was born, they laid Him in a manger.

Apart from those shepherds – little people, as they were regarded – few others knew or cared about this birth, and everywhere throughout Bethlehem and Judea and all the vast Roman Empire, life went on as usual.

In one place, however, this birth, long expected and now accomplished, came as a tectonic quake and an accompanying tsunami of dread, panic, and urgent action. For thousands of years, dark forces of deception, corruption, deceit, and death had ruled the affairs of men and nations. To themselves, they appeared to be making a mockery of the plan and design of Him Who had created all things and Whom these wicked powers wished only to unseat and destroy. They had had their way with men – except for that smallest, most insignificant of peoples, a nation sheltered under the special protection of this dark empire’s arch foe, and who clung to His promises of redemption, restoration, and renewal.

And now this Babe, long promised, was at last arrived. The mother’s laying Him in that manger landed like the crash of a falling anvil on the Kingdom of darkness. Satan knew full well what this small beginning portended. The poet Robert Southwell (1561-1595) captured the moment:

This little Babe, so few days old,
Is come to rifle Satan’s fold;
All hell doth at His presence quake.
Though He Himself for cold do shake,
For in this weak 
unarmed wise
The gates of hell He will surprise.

Urgent action

He was just a Baby. He had no political clout, no wealth with which to buy favors or enlist supporters, no large public platform from which to persuade the multitudes. He was just a Baby, helpless like many others. And like many others, the prince of darkness reasoned, he could be easily destroyed. Urgent action was required to preserve one’s place against this would-be usurper.

As soon as it was feasible, therefore, Satan enlisted religious and political leaders in a plot to destroy this Child. It would involve the destruction of many other innocents, but when one wants to make sure of his objectives, a little overkill is unavoidable.

But the Child escaped to Egypt and returned to anonymity in the Galilean north. There, under the protection of His heavenly Father, from small beginnings, He increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man. One day He would appear beside the Jordan River, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and the anointing Word of God. He would be publicly acknowledged as the One Who had come to take away the sin of the world; and taking away the sin of the world meant taking away the privileges and power of the father of all sin and all lies.

So the Child, now a Man, must be stopped. If He could not be killed, perhaps He could be persuaded to change His loyalties. Three times in the wilderness, when the Man was physically weak, the devil sought to win His devotion. Three times he was rebuffed.

This was getting serious.

From small beginnings
But let Him go. Let Him search for followers. Let Him impress the multitudes, wow the crowds, even gather the momentum of a movement. When the time was right, Satan would move all necessary earthly powers to take up his own dastardly mission and do away with this threat to his vast spiritual demesne.

Yet not even that would suffice. The Light had come, and the darkness could not overcome it, and has not overcome it still.

From a small beginning, a mighty cosmic transformation has been wrought. The works of the devil are destroyed by the manger muscle of Jesus Christ. “Our Babe, to show His Godhead true,/Can in His swaddling bands control the damnèd crew” (Milton). The devil still stalks about with all his minions, seeking whom he may devour, but the ranks of those who know him to be bound, and who understand his wiles and resist him by the Power of God, have continued and increased, filling the earth with the knowledge of that little Babe, and carrying the marks of His rule of light into every nook and cranny where darkness has fled from His powerful Word.

From small beginnings, that Babe has transformed history, set the vast cosmos on a course of renewal, rifled the devil’s fold and brought righteousness and peace and joy to multitudes, and provided for us a template for thinking about our own lives. From little things and small beginnings, an abundance of light and life can flow, as we follow Jesus with all the little things of our lives.

For reflection
1.  What do we mean by saying that Jesus’ life is a template for our own?

2.  Every day with Jesus is a small beginning from which transformation, renewal, and Kingdom progress can issue. What are the implications of this for your life?

3.  How can Christians encourage one another to see every small beginning as an opportunity for destroying the works of the devil and advancing the Kingdom of light?

Next steps – Preparation: Reflect on your answers to the questions above. Use your answers to lead you into a time of silent meditation and prayer, waiting on the Lord to convict, affirm, and direct you as He will.

T. M. Moore

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This week’s study is part 2of a 3-part series, The Small Stuff. Each part consists of seven lessons and is available as a free PDF download at the end of the study. In the tag for part 7, we’ll give you a link to download part 2, “Small Beginnings.” Why not line up some friends to study through all three parts of this series?

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT. 

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