When pondering the nativity, I’ve heard much made of the fact that the manger is a place of great humility for the King of Kings to be found, and rightly so. I’ve seldom given much thought, however, to what the manger was — a feeding place for animals.
There’s little evidence that there were animals present at Christ’s birth. “The cattle were lowing,” as the song goes, but it it’s difficult to imagine a Jewish setting with high values on both cleanliness and hospitality that would permit a woman to give birth while having to worry about being stepped on by a donkey. The manger was indeed lowly, but this manger was not in use when Mary and Joseph sought a place to lay their child.
There is no stable mentioned in any of the gospel accounts — just the manger. The shepherds are not told to go to a stable, but a manger. They would not find the baby lying at his mother’s breast — the most logical place to find a newborn — but lying in a manger.