Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Imagine you’re trying to show your dog something. You point your finger in the direction you want the dog to look. But the dog looks at your finger instead of at the object you’re trying to point to. This is frustrating, but it illustrates a natural mistake we all make from time to time. It’s the mistake many people make when reading the Christmas story in Luke’s gospel. What do people know about Jesus’ birth? The manger—the Christmas crib “where ox and ass are feeding.” The most famous animal feeding-trough in all history. You’ll find it on Christmas cards. We even have our own manger scene, and some churches encourage people to say their prayers in front of them. The question we’re going to consider this Christmas Eve is why has Luke mentioned the manger? Why mention it three times in this story?
The Manger Tells Us Who The Child Is
If we focus too closely on the details surrounding the manger we might forget why it was mentioned in the first place. We can be like the dog looking at the finger rather than the object. Why mention the manger? Firstly, because it was the feeding-trough which was the sign to the shepherds. It pointed them to baby they were looking for. And it showed them that the angel knew what he was talking about. It’s a sign pointing to the baby Jesus.
Why is that significant? Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt helps us out:
O Jesus Christ, Thy manger is my paradise at which my soul reclineth.TLH 81:1
For there, O Lord, does lie the Word made flesh for us; herein Your grace shines forth.
The shepherds were told who this child was. This child is the saviour, the Messiah, the Lord. The manger isn’t important in itself. It’s a signpost, a pointing finger, to the identity and task of the baby boy who’s lying in it. The baby in the manger is the “sign” that affirms the truthfulness of this proclamation.
And this is the kind of proclamation that needs affirmation. The child in the manger is none other than God himself. Nothing greater can be said: God became a child! In Jesus, the son of Mary, lives the Almighty Creator. Stop for a moment. Don’t speak. Stop thinking. Just think about that statement. God became a child! Here he is, poor, like us. Miserable and helpless, like us. A person of flesh and blood, just like us. He’s our brother. And yet, he’s God; he is might. God became a child! That is Christmas in a nutshell. God and man have come together in one Person. The Infinite has become the finite. The Transcendent has become Imminent. The Creator is one with the creature. The Eternal breaks into time. The fulness of the Deity dwells bodily among us. It is almost too much for us bear. The Creator who fills all things, who made all things, who existed before all things, humbled Himself in this way, becoming bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, yet still remained God. The manger points to who this child is. This helpless infant boy is Divinity itself? Yeah! With the prophet Isaiah we proclaim that this child is also the “Mighty God!”
The Manger Points to What this Child Will Do
But the manger also points to what this child will do for us. In this manger lies a saviour! God became like us because of his unsurpassable love for us. His lowliness in that manger is really a display of his might. In this manger, the rift between God and humanity has been overcome. Divinity and humanity are united in one person. What is going on here? What’s going on when Mary becomes the mother of God? What’s it all about? This is all about the birth of a child who will offer salvation and deliverance to humanity. God became a child, so that you might be a child of God. God became a child so that you might rise from the dead to see God. God became a child to rescue your flesh from sin, death, and hell. God became a child so that you might know the One who is your Light, your Life, and your salvation.
Christmas is truly celebrated by those who know that they have no peace, who know that they are poor and incomplete, broken and miserable and helpless. God is with the lowly. God is with the poor and helpless. This is the good news of great joy that Christmas brings each year! “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” To you. Take it personally. You have reason to rejoice and shout for joy because God sent His Son. God became a child for you. For you He was conceived by the Spirit and born of the Virgin. For you He was wrapped in cloths and laid in a manger. No matter who you are, you can rejoice.
Rejoice, if you are not righteous because this manger holds the one who justifies.
Rejoice, if you are weak and sick because this manger holds the one who will make you well.
Rejoice, if you are in captivity because this manger holds the one who makes you free.
Rejoice, if you are poor because this manger holds the your true treasure.
Rejoice, if you are about to die because this manger holds your key to paradise.
Rejoice, for Christ is born.
It may be hard to rejoice when Christmas looks and feels very different from previous ones. We may even think this isn’t much of a Christmas at all. But if you took away the glowing candles, the pretty poinsettias, the Christmas tree and the lights, the banners and all the other stuff, we would still have the essence of Christmas. You can take away all the tinsel and mistletoe and family parties and endless expectations, you can take it all away and lock us down until you have nothing more than two or three poor, miserable sinners huddled around the Word of Christ, and you will have everything of Christmas. If we want to participate in the celebration of Christmas, we cannot simply sit here like couch potatoes and enjoy the show. Instead, we are invited to join in the scene at the manger. We are drawn into the drama in Bethlehem. Bend your knees in humility just like the shepherds bowed before the manger. Kneel because God became a child. Ponder these mysteries and store them in your heart like the Virgin Mary, because God became a child. Sing carols of praise to God with all the angel hosts because God became a child. God became a child for you and for your salvation! Nothing in this world, not even a lockdown, can take that away from you.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.