On the Manger and the Cross (Christmas Eve Service)
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Most of us have baby pictures of ourselves. Parents and grandparents can’t take enough of them—particularly grandparents. And so somewhere in the archives is your baby picture. Maybe even one taken without clothing; likely the only time in our lives that we would let such a picture be seen. (Or taken)
What would be fun is to have had a collection of baby pictures of people present in the service tonight, show them on the screen and see if you could pick out the adult in the crowd from viewing a baby picture. For most of us, if we are holding two pictures of ourselves; a picture of then (infancy) and now (adult) we are relying on parental verification that it really is me in the baby picture. At the same time, the thing that unites those two pictures is you.
1. Now we do not have baby pictures of Jesus nor a physical description of what he looked like as an adult. I don’t have two pictures to lay side by side to show you Mary’s son as a baby and here as a man. The gospel of Luke gives us something else. The manger and the cross. They both are made of wood and they both held the Son of God. The thing that unites the baby in the manger and the man on the cross is the One life of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Sometimes when we have a special birthday our loved ones will gather a series of photos from over the course of our life and display them on some kind of electronic device. If you were invited to attend such a special birthday party of a friend you, no doubt, would enjoy seeing the pictures. There is certain entertainment value we derive in reviewing changing fashions and hair styles. However, you didn’t go to the party just to see the pictures—but to see your friend. To engage her in conversation; to give a greeting in person; to enjoy her company. And you can only do this in person.
Every Christmas the church holds a great birthday party for our Saviour Jesus Christ. In a manner of speaking, we get out the baby pictures of manger and shepherds and angels. We celebrate that he has come among us. It is very important that we don’t show up just to see the pictures. We must come to meet him. It isn`t enough to watch the gallery of photo`s go by; manger and shepherds and wise men, at the temple talking theology with the scholars, now in his father`s carpenter shop, on the Sea of Galilee calling his disciples, at Capernaum preaching in the synagogue, and so on. In the celebration of our Lord`s birthday we hold worship services to gather to meet him; to celebrate that at the birth of this child God has come among us as one of us.
2. Generally speaking, the birth of a child is the occasion of good news. I enjoyed sharing the news when my children and grandchildren were born. I recall a friend congratulating me when I told him the news of a grandson’s birth. I thought to myself that it felt a little odd to receive congratulations when it was my son and daughter-in-law—particularly my daughter-in-law—who did all the work. But I received the congratulations none the less. I had a special connection to this child.
I remember fondly my son calling me to tell me that I had a granddaughter—she was the first grandchild for me. Many of you have made and received those calls. It interesting to note that we do not usually say to a grandparent—to you a child has been born. The child is born to her or his parents. Even though grandparents have a special connection to the child we don’t say the child is born to you.
When you reflect on that it makes the angel announcement to the shepherds stand out all the more. “To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour.” To you. The implication of the text—and it is surely what the gospel writer Luke wants his hearers to understand—is that this child is born to every one of us. It is God’s intention that we know that this child is born to each one of us. Jesus is surely Mary’s son but he is born to us and for us. As we gather tonight to see the baby pictures and look at the child in the manger God’s message is that you are looking at your saviour. “To you is born this day.” Will we receive him as our own?
3. There is more of which to take note. When God gives us his great Christmas gift he gives us himself. We like to give Christmas gifts and see the delight our loved ones take in what they receive. So much so we do plenty of advance scouting to be sure it is something they want. In less affluent days parents gave their children what they needed. It is important to note that God does not ask us in advance about what we would like—we are always telling him that in our prayers. Please highlight this note; God gives us himself. Further, we cannot have what God gives us apart from having him.
It is apparent in seeing what God has done in coming among us in the Son, that God believes we humans need him. In coming among us as our Saviour his message is that we need saving.
I read recently a blog posting by a minister named Karl Voters titled “Six Church-and-Culture Issues I Don't Care About Any More.” I found that myself agreeing with him. (Maybe a little worrisome.) One the issues he didn’t care about any more was this: I Don't Care Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.
“Let me be very, very clear about this”, Voters wrote. I care – deeply – when bad things happen to people. There’s a lot of very real pain in the world and not nearly enough people who care about it. … When people are hurting, they want answers. But our desire to give them answers can lead to empty slogans. In the face of suffering, our prayers and our presence are more important than our explanations.” Voters concluded, “I don’t have the answers. So I won’t pretend I do. But I know who is the answer. Knowing who is better than knowing why.”
Knowing who. This is the story of Christmas. God gives us himself. And the wood of the manger that held the Saviour of the world foreshadows to wood of the cross when God in they Son will take the pain of sin and suffering for our salvation.
God gives us himself—the message is we need him! And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger … to you is born this day a Saviour. Amen.