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Why the Feeding Trough?

God has put the hope of the world where anyone in the world can reach him.


How about this for a true story. In 2007 my husband Jonathan and I caught a plane to Australia with Academy-Award winning director George Miller. George Miller, if you don’t know, is the man who made the Mad Max movies. And I say “Academy Award winner” deliberately, because George Miller had, quite literally just won an Academy Award, not five days before, for directing the movie Happy Feet.

Jonathan and I were in the non-priority entry queue at Sydney airport, and suddenly Jonathan starts yelling to this poor, tired man in the line, “You’re George Miller! You’re George Miller! You just won an Oscar! Congratulations, George! Congratulations!” The news began to spread through the whole crowd: “It’s George Miller! It’s George Miller! Congratulations! Congratulations!” All of us were crowding around him, patting him on the back.

Can you guess what George Miller did next? He turned to Jonathan and said, “You know what? I’ve got it! I’ve got my award right here, right now, in this backpack! Do you wanna see?” And right then and there George Miller flipped his bag off of his shoulders, unzipped the zip, and there it was: not wrapped or anything, just dumped in the bottom of his bag, a 24-karat gold plated Academy Award. Can you believe it? A 24-karat gold plated Academy Award in a backpack, in the non-priority entry queue, in Terminal D, Sydney Airport, Australia. And George Miller reached in, and lifted it up out of that bag, and everyone began to crowd around, taking turns touching the thing. It was the most exciting entry to Australia I have ever had.

As I think about that story now, I do wonder, what on earth was George Miller doing in our non-priority entry queue? And why was his award right there, in the bottom of his backpack, unwrapped, with his half eaten plane snacks, his smelly plane socks, and his open packet chewing gum? What a crazy place to put an Academy Award!

Placed in a Feeding Trough

Now how about this for a true story. In a room for the animals, in a feeding trough, what a crazy place to put the hope of the entire world. But that is where God puts him, isn’t it?

Jesus, who is able to free people imprisoned by their bad decisions. Jesus, who is able to give humanity a renewed relationship with their creator God. Jesus, who is able to transform individual lives and whole communities for good. Jesus, who is able to break the power of death and offer the gift of eternal life.

Jesus, the king of glory, the Son of God, might as well have been zipped up in a used backpack, because when his family gets to Bethlehem, this teensy tiny town, not big enough for a hotel, the guest lodging is full, and they have to sleep among the animals. And when Jesus is born, his momma puts him in a feeding trough. That’s a crazy place to put him, isn’t it? A crazy place to put the Son of God, a crazy place to put the hope of the entire world.

Why a Feeding Trough?

Do you ever think about why? Why the animal room? Why a feeding trough? God is God, and every part of the nativity story has been carefully orchestrated by him. Nothing is an accident. Nothing is impossible to organize for God. It’s not like God failed to make his hotel reservations on time. Jesus could have been born anywhere in the world. Why was it so important that there was no room in the inn? Why was it so important that he be born on a hay dust floor with the animals all around?

How about we flip it around? Let’s ask some “what ifs.” What if Jesus was born in a king’s palace? What would that mean for the world? He’d certainly have had safety and privilege and access to great powers. But how would I reach him? Me. A middle class suburban girl. Would I have had to wait in line? Or stand outside the palace gates?

What if Jesus was born in a nice suburban family home? What would that have meant for the world? It’d feel great to know that Jesus was like me, but what would it mean to the homeless folk we feed downtown on a Tuesday nights? When God commits to coming to earth, would a suburban birth say he’s too good to be like one of them?

But here, among the animals, among their sweat and dung, no one could say “That little baby is out of my reach.” No one could say, “He’s too good for me.” No one could say, “He doesn’t understand my life.” Isaiah 57 tells us that God dwells “with the contrite and lowly of spirit, in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” Isaiah teaches us that while humanity might spend all of its energy building very tall towers, God is the builder of a trench. When God had the chance to offer a gift of hope for the whole world, he put that hope where anyone in the world could reach him.

Living with the Animals

God put Jesus where Fatima could reach him. When I first learnt about Fatima she was13-years-old. Fatima had best friends she went with to her suburban school. After school, like a normal 13-year-old, she’d come home and do her homework, but she hated doing that. Her favorite part of the day was being done with homework so she could run around in the backyard with her 11-year-old brother and play soccer. Their favorite soccer team is Real Madrid.

But then Fatima couldn’t play soccer for a long time. Or go to school. Not after Fatima and her brother Muhammed and their mother Manha fled Aleppo for Lebanon. You see, the place where Fatima and her family were forced to live didn’t have a backyard. Their mother paid $140 rent a month, to pay for their accommodations that have no sewage, no water, no heat, just one single overhead lightbulb. Because, Fatima, Muhammed, and Manha were living together as Syrian refugees, in a chicken coop.

We might hope that their story is an anomaly, a one-off, but it is not. All over Lebanon, refugees fleeing from Syria were made to live in structures the Lebanese people previously built for their animals. The Al Azab family, who managed to flee Aleppo all together—mom, dad, and eight kids—the 10 of them lived together in a space 10 feet by 12 feet, paying $100 a month, for a cow shed, that when they moved in had a leaky roof and cow-manure under foot.

I must tell you, it never made more sense to me why Jesus was born among the animals until I learned about the Al Azab family. I wish even now that I could go into that cow shed where they slept, and point to that feeding trough, and tell that mother who feels ashamed to lay her little boy in it as his bed, "Momma, I need you to know that the God of the whole universe laid his own little boy in a feeding trough just like that one, just so you could know that even now, God is not too good for you, he is not out of reach for you. The hope of the world is for you too.”

You can Always Reach Jesus

Now I pray to God that none of us ever know what it is to be a refugee. But you should know that wherever you end up, it doesn’t matter how lowly you become, God has put the hope of the world in a place where you can still reach him.

When you are tempted to the point of going out of your mind, God has put Jesus there, you can still reach him. When you are under such stress that you feel you might sweat blood, God has put Jesus there, you can still reach him. When you are grieving a grief you feel you cannot bear, God has put Jesus there, you can still reach him. When you are completely alone, Jesus is there. When you are dying, Jesus is there. When you are in the chicken coops and cow sheds of the world, God has put the hope of the world there too.

God has put the hope of the world where anyone in the world can reach him.


Tomorrow morning you’ll wake up and it will be Christmas. And perhaps, if you are extra blessed, someone may have left you a few presents around the Christmas tree. When you see them this year, be thankful. Be thankful that those presents weren’t left on a high shelf, or dropped off on top of your roof. No, those gifts were left low, under the tree, so that even the littlest ones in the family can reach them.

And remember that this is what God did with the One who can rescue us. This is what God did with the One who can really love us, with the One who can save us from our sins. He put him in a lowly place, wrapped in cloths, and in a feeding trough, so that anyone can reach him, even the littlest among us, even the world’s refugees, even you. For that we say, thanks be to God.

Alison Gerber is the former pastor of Second Congregational Church in Peabody MA, now a PhD in Preaching student at Truett Seminary/Baylor University in Waco TX.

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