Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:1–20, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It’s Christmas Eve and baby Jesus has been laid in a manger. Mary and Joseph beam with delight. The animals are attentive. The shepherds are on their way fresh from the heavenly announcement. Peace on Earth is right there lying in swaddling cloths. It’s the vision of Christmas that we have all come to see tonight. What could be better? The holiday that celebrates children and family, and love, forgiveness and gift giving, starting with a baby laid in a manger? He is after all the “Reason for the season.” It is essential to keep Christ in Christmas.
Actually, I don’t really think that Christ has been totally removed from the Holiday. You can’t go far without seeing a nativity scene. I even saw one a few days ago that had Elvis worshipping Jesus. But Jesus was still there. Elvis was just tucked in behind Joseph and a few sheep. Jesus is a regular fixture in the Christmas music you hear on the radio, right along with Grandma and with her
“…hoof prints on her forehead; And incriminatin' Claus marks on her back.” (Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer, Song by Elmo & Patsy)
And in spite of the fact that at some Walmart stores you’ll hear “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” you can still find “The Little Drummer Boy” in the video section. No, Jesus is still a part of Christmas. People easily remember that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.
What I think we forget about the baby that was laid in the manger is that he was also laid in a tomb. The sweet warmth and light of the story of Christmas is nothing without the harsh cold darkness of Jesus’ tomb. What we don’t want to forget, what we can’t afford to forget, is that the baby in the manger was born for more than a cute scene for a family holiday. You know, Linus gets it right standing in the spotlight in front of the Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11, ESV)
The stable’s new born babe is Savior of the world. It’s not because he’s cute. It’s because he is God in the flesh who comes to die on the cross. The fresh pink flesh that Mary and Joseph cleaned and wrapped in swaddling cloths was pierced by nails and hung up to die. The small voice that cooed for its first meal at Mary’s breast,
…cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Matthew 27:46, ESV)
Jesus is born in Bethlehem to accomplish this purpose, to be the sacrifice for all sin on the cross. To suffer eternal hell, that is rejection by God, for all people. To satisfy the just punishment for your sin and mine. And then to defeat death, your death and mine, through his resurrection to new life. He only begins a baby. But that’s because he must. Jesus begins his life, just as you and I do. A baby conceived in a womb, carried nine months, and born. He grew and loved and worked and played. A complete human, born as anyone. Countless babies were likely born in similar circumstances. What makes this one Nativity Scene worthy is who he is and what he is born to do.
The last thing we want to hear on Christmas is about human sin, particularly our sin. But it is the story of sin that make the story of the manger necessary. Our sin separates us from God and one another. Our sin is a rejection of the creator of the universe. Our sin deserves God’s anger and punishment. The promise of the new born life in the manger is God’s promise of forgiveness. “God and sinners reconciled.”
And so, here we sit on Christmas Eve with the story of baby Jesus fresh in our ears. It is a lovely story. It is so because of who Jesus is. It is so because of what he does. It only begins in human history in the manger. It is the cross, and the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross, that makes the manger of any value to you and me. And it is the empty tomb that makes the cross true. The Baby that was laid in a manger, went to the cross, died and was laid also in a grave. But Easter morning the grave was empty because that self-same baby rose from the dead, with the promise of your resurrection, your eternal life through the forgiveness of your sins. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.