"Come to the Manger" (Luke 2:15-16)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this morning.
The text for our consideration this morning is from St. Luke’s account of the birth of our Savior, Luke 2:15-16 …
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.
In particular, I want to us to focus on two portions of this section of Holy Scripture. First, the invitation that the angels gave to the shepherds; second, the response of the shepherds to the invitation they received.
Picture yourself on the Judean hillside with the shepherds. It is night, and darker than the nights that you and I know around here, with all the city lights lighting up the night sky. It is the kind of night you have when you are out camping in the middle of nowhere. You can barely see your hand in front of your face. You look up and see countless stars in the sky. You bundle up against the nip in the air, because even in Palestine it can get cold after the sun goes down. Off in the distance you can see a few flickering lights in the windows of the homes in Bethlehem. But the only noise you hear is the occasional bleat from a sheep in the flock you are watching.
And then imagine the incredible glory that interrupts your pastoral evening. The shepherd next to you says, “Now there's something you don't see every day.” On second thought, no ... nobody says a word, because you're scared speechless. And the message that you hear from the angel is far beyond your understanding.
The angel announced the birth of the Savior: “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” But then, the angel did more than just announce the birth of the Savior. He also extended an invitation to the shepherds: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” In other words, the angel was saying, “Come to the manger! Come and see it for yourself. Come and see this baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
What if the shepherds had decided not to accept that invitation to “Come to the Manger”? What if they had decided to stay with their flocks? They could have absorbed all of the glory and been dazzled by it all … the glory of the Lord, the angel’s message, the heavenly host. What a great story it would be to tell the grandkids!
But then, the memory fades. Without a visit to the manger, that glorious hillside experience would have been empty. It would have remained only a memory of an exciting event … like an exceptional Fourth of July fireworks display … like the rockets that explode so brilliantly but quickly burn out and fall to the ground as nothing more than scattered ashes.
What if you and I decide to stay in the glow of Christmas instead of “Coming to the manger”? There certainly is something magical about the Christmas season ... the anticipation of gifts ... warm family times ... egg nog ... glowing, fragrant candles ... sumptuous meals ... the look of wonder on children's faces ... visions of sugar plums dancing in your head ... and you can almost hear the angel choirs singing right along with your hymns and carols.
But then, as you clean up the crumpled wrapping paper and begin thinking about when the decorations will start coming down, Christmas for us becomes a fading memory. Without a visit to the manger, our glorious Christmas experience would be empty. It remains only a warm memory of another nice holiday.
The shepherds did not stay there on the hillside. They responded to the invitation to “Come to the Manger!” St. Luke tells us, “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.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. They ran into town and quickly looked into every home and every barn and every cave turned into a barn. Finally, they found the baby about which the angels had told them.
“Coming to the Manger” was a life-changing experience for these lowly shepherds. Even though this baby looked like any other baby, they took God at His Word and saw there the Savior in the hay, and they knelt down and worshipped Him. And it was not a fading memory. The manger visit continued to motivate them as they left from there, as Luke says, “When they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child.” And then, they returned to their vocation on the hillside on the outskirts of Bethlehem, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and see, as it had been told them.”
The Holy Spirit works in our Christmas celebration in a similar way. He instills in us a desire so that we want to go and see what the Lord has done ... or should I say "hear" what the Lord has done, as we did last night ... as we are doing this morning. We come again to the manger on bended knee and see the Christ Child.
This visit to the manger is a life-changing experience for us, too. Even though the baby looks like any other baby, we take God at His Word that this baby is our God and Savior who loved us so much to be born for us, to live among us, and to die for us ... and we and kneel down and worship Him. Through His birth, death, and resurrection, Jesus earned salvation for us ... the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting in fellowship with our loving Triune God.
And this is no fading memory for us, either. Loved by God ... sins forgiven ... our visit to the manger motivates us as we leave to spread the Good News. We return to whatever hillside on which we live or work, glorifying and praising God for all that we have seen and heard.
This is why we can sing in Paul Gerhardt’s beautiful hymn:
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is
My paradise at which my soul reclineth.
For there, O Lord, Doth lie the Word
Made flesh for us; herein Thy grace forth shineth.
He whom the sea And wind obey
Doth come to serve the sinner in great meekness,
Thou, God’s own Son, With us art one,
Dost join us and our children in our weakness.
Thou Christian heart, Whoe’er thou art,
Be of good cheer and let no sorrow move thee.
For God’s own child, In mercy mild,
Joins thee to him; how greatly God must love thee.
(LSB 372, stanzas 1, 2, 4)