Thursday, December 24, 2009
Sermon for Christmas Eve 2009
“Seeing Yourself in the Stable” (Luke 2:8-20)
Last week my kids climbed onto an easy chair in our house on which we have a throw blanket. Embroidered on the throw is an image of the Nativity scene. Like the silly kids they are, they climbed under the throw and all you could see of them was their heads peeking out from the side. Quickly we rushed to grab the camera and snap a picture, because their pose made it appear as if they were part of the Nativity scene. There was Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus, the Wise Men, and two little kids poking their heads out at the side, as if they were right there in the stable on that first Christmas.
That photograph got me to thinking about “Seeing Yourself in the Stable.” How easy is it for you to see yourself in the stable where Jesus was born? What I mean by that is this: Is the birth of Jesus a living story for you? Or is the manger scene in your home or the ones around town nothing more than a distant diorama of an ancient myth?
What do you think about as you stand before a Nativity scene? Is it something you place in your home simply because it's your custom? Mom and Dad did it, so we will, too? It's just part of the Christmas decorations? It reminds me of warm family memories from the past? It's a distant event that doesn't really have any impact on my life today? It's a nice story, but all that business about angels and a star and a virgin giving birth, well, that's just too much to believe?
If that's the case, then you will miss out on the real meaning of this celebration. More importantly, you will miss out on the eternal blessings of that blessed event.
Our Nativity scenes are not just distant dioramas of an ancient myth. Rather, the birth of Jesus was a dynamic display of divine intervention.
The evangelist Luke doesn't allow us to hear this story as a myth … as a fictional story concocted to teach us a particular worldview or to illustrate some cultural ideal. He places the events of the Nativity of Christ smack dab in the middle of other historical events: a revenue gathering decree from the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus in the days when Cyrenius was governor of Syria and Herod was king in Judea. That's pretty specific. Not the stuff you find in myths and legends.
The birth of Jesus was the culmination of all of God's promises. All the way back in the beginning, God promised to send a Savior for his fallen, sinful creation. (Gen. 3:15) The first two human beings, Adam and Eve, rebelled against God and brought sin and death into the world. The effects of sin and death have lingered with us ever since. We have inherited a sinful nature from our first parents which causes us to rebel against God. But God gave Adam and Eve a promise that he would one day send a Savior who would come from the offspring of the woman.
God promised Abraham that a son would be born to him and his wife Sarah in their old age. Isaac was that son. And then, God said that Abraham's descendants would become as numerous “as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” (Gen. 22:17) But one offspring in particular would be unique. Through this offspring “shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” (Gen. 22:18). All nations would be blessed through this offspring because he would be the Savior not only of the descendants of Abraham but of all people of all time and places.
Isaiah foretold that a special Child would one day be born. One of his titles would be “Mighty God.” (Is. 9:6) 700 years before this birth, Micah pinpointed the birthplace of this Child as Bethlehem, the city of David. He also said that this child's origins would be “from of old, from ancient days.” (Mic. 5:2) This promised child was truly God Incarnate … God in the flesh. He is eternally the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, come to dwell with us as a True Man. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour,” said the angel, “which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)
God broke into history in the most unique way in this birth in the stable. You would expect him to come in glory, sort of like the way he announced the birth to the shepherds, with angels and singing and the “glory of the Lord [shining] round about.” (Luke 2:9) But when the shepherds arrived at the stable, what did they find? The usual smells. Hay and straw. Probably the usual animals. The visitors who could find no room in the inn … a young woman, her husband, and a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough. God entered into history in the most humble way imaginable. The King of Kings was indeed born to two people of royal blood, of the House of David. But this King was born in a barn, not a palace. This King was wrapped in cloth, not in a royal robe of purple. And for a throne this King took a manger.
This was all a foretaste of how this Baby was going to be the Savior of the world. Jesus was born in all humility in order to die in all humility. Jesus eventually was wrapped in a royal robe. But this robe was placed upon him in mockery when he was on trial for claiming to be God. Jesus eventually was crowned as King. But the crown he was given was made of thorns. Jesus eventually did take a throne. But his throne was shaped like a cross. Jesus was not born to be a King who would win military victories and establish an earthly kingdom. Jesus was born to be a King who would win eternal victories over sin, death, and the devil and to bring people into his heavenly kingdom. Jesus won those victories by living a life of perfect obedience to his Heavenly Father, by dying on the cross in order to pay the price you and I owe God for our disobedience, and by rising from the dead again on Easter morning, proving that his sacrifice was acceptable for the sin of the world. Jesus is the “Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6) because he came to earn peace between God and Man through his saving death and resurrection.
All of God's promises were kept in Christ Jesus. His mission of salvation was promised in the Garden of Eden. Thousands of years passed. And finally, the mission of salvation was quickly coming to fruition in the Manger of Bethlehem. “The hopes and fears of all the years” were met in the birth of that seemingly helpless little Baby, dependent upon his mother for his well-being. But that Baby was not helpless. That Baby was and is Almighty God, come himself “From heav'n above” to be our Savior.
If you only view a Nativity scene as a representation of a quaint old story that teaches us how to live, then you're missing the point. Some say it's so we might learn to be more hospitable. I even read a blog post the other day that said that the Nativity teaches us about conservation of the environment. It said that just as the heavens offered a star, the wilderness offered grass for the manger, and the cattle their warming breath, then we, too, need to offer all we can in order to transform the world and make it a better place to live. I can sort of buy the hospitality lesson, but this one really is quite a stretch.
When you hear the message of the manger the way it's supposed to be heard … as the true story of how Jesus your Savior was born for you, to bring you to repentance, to forgive you all your sins, to give you new life in Baptism, to renew you in the power of the Holy Spirit so that you can trust in him not just at Christmas but always, to bring you into his eternal kingdom and give you eternal life … then by faith you can see yourself in the stable along with the shepherds, worshiping and adoring the newborn Baby. You don't have to travel back in time or in your imagination to bow down before your Savior. Just as God broke into time and space in the birth of Christ, he breaks into our world today as this Word is preached to you. The Word of God is the manger for us today. This place is the stable. And Jesus … Christ the Lord … is present with us right now with his grace and mercy.
O come, let us adore him.