Summary: The Jews ask at Passover: :what is the most important day of they year? How does the Christian answer this?
A Homily for Christmas Eve Candlelight Communion Service
“And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
We have now come to the evening we celebrate the greatest gift ever given. We remember on this holy evening the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This evening, we lay aside all the preparations we have made for Christmas and come to worship Christ who made this day possible.
The Savior of the World made his appearance in the dark of night in an out of the way place. Bethlehem was hardly on the map, and this birth took place where animals were kept up. It was a place where lambs are born. How fitting that the Lamb of God should be born there! Now the one who brought life and light to the world finds the beginning of His earthly sojourn. The Word of God had become flesh and tabernacled among us. The presence of God had come into the midst of His people. Yet most of the world was unaware of it. It was not like the day the Tabernacle was dedicated in the wilderness where the entire congregation of Israel saw the glory. Yet, there was glory, but it was hidden. The shepherds were invited to see the visible manifestation of the Angel of the LORD and the heavenly hosts. But the rest of Israel, and indeed the entire world slept on. I would suppose the baby that the shepherds saw did not have a shining halo over His head. Just an ordinary baby born under extraordinary circumstances.
This Word become Flesh had come to His own creation and to His people. Yet He would be rejected as a whole by both. Yet there would be those who would accept Him. To them is the benefit of the greatest gift ever given.
Here is Jesus, wrapped up in strips of cloth and placed in a feeding trough. The wrapping of the greatest gift is not in fancy paper with a bow on it. Yet, this greatest gift ever given has a glory that outshines the sun. The Son of God is veiled in human flesh. Let us come to the manger to see Him. Come to Bethlehem! Earthly eyes will show a poor man and woman trying their best to make the baby Jesus comfortable. He is warmed and comforted by the strips of cloth. Babies in that time were wrapped up this way with their arms folded over the chest in order to reproduce the confinement and security of the womb. But there is more to see here than earthly eyes can see.
Who else was wrapped in strips of cloth? The Pharaohs when they died were wrapped up this way with their arms folded over the chest. But these were dead kings. This child was not dead, but alive. And He was indeed a king, far greater than any of the Pharaohs. So, what is to see here. Let us look at the manger. In the Middle East, wood was scarce. So they were often carved out of soft stone. Jesus was probably placed in a stone feeding trough. Now where were the dead bodies of the Pharaoh’s placed? – in a stone sarcophagus. But as we noted, these Pharaohs were dead but Jesus is alive in the stone box. What is the connection?
The connection is this. This child was born to die for the sin of the world. The day would come that He would be rejected and despised, just as Isaiah prophesied. He would be tried, scourged, and crucified. Then He would be wrapped in strips of cloth over His folded arms and placed in a rich man’s tomb which was carved into the rock. The presentation of Jesus in the manger is a sign of Jesus’ sacrificial death. As the elderly Simeon prophesied, Mary’s heart would be stabbed in that day. Two of Charles Wesley’s earliest hymns after his conversion were “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Christ the Lord is risen today.” What is interesting in the old Methodist Hymnal is that the tune “Lyra Davidica” is the alternate melody to the one Mendelsohn wrote which was adapted later for the carol. What is interesting is that the Lyra Davidica is still the tune for “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” Christmas and crucifixion, Christmas and Easter. It is all a part of the greatest story of all time.
What else do we see in the feeding trough? A loaf of bread presented for eating. This child when He grew would one day say “I AM the Bread of Life.” (John 6:35) Those who eat this bread and drink his blood have eternal life. The Jews instantly started murmuring just as their ancestors did in the world. Their eyes could only see Jesus as the son of Joseph and Mary. (John 6:41) This is because we can only see this ourselves if our eyes are opened to this by the Lord. One has to be drawn (John 6:44) The one who wishes to have eternal life must graze on this bread. In John 6:54, the verb describes the eating of his flesh like an animal eats. The idea for a Jew to eat human flesh and drink human blood was as offensive as it gets. It is pretty gross for us as well. But when we are told to munch this bread like an animal, the offense if even more offensive. There is the idea of wolfing down this bread. But here He is, presented in the feeding trough and beckoning us to munch on Him.