Summary: Focus on Christ as coming in the Cradle, the Cross and the Crown.
Away From the Manger
Rev. Brian Bill
Now that Christmas is over, maybe people will start being nicer to each other again. About a week ago, I was at a store and a lady told me that I was ignorant. I almost agreed with her and then decided to ask her what she meant. She glared at me and said, “I’ve asked you to get out of the way 3 times now and you haven’t moved.” I apologized to her and mentioned that I didn’t hear her. As she barreled past me, I couldn’t resist giving her one parting comment. I put a smile on my face and said, “Merry Christmas!” She turned back and growled, “Yeah, Merry Christmas to you, too.”
A couple days ago I was in a parking lot and another woman shook her fist at me because I was driving too slow. I wanted to wish her a Happy New Year but thought better of it. So much for good will to all men!
Well, here we are in that time of the year between Christmas and New Year. We’re moving away from the manger and into the countdown to the year 2000 – and to the Wisconsin Badgers winning the Rose Bowl!
We’re all pretty much on overload right now as it relates to the holidays. We don’t know if we can take any more carols or Christmas cookies.
Before we let the last Christmas of the millennium just become a memory, I want us to focus on three signs as they relate to Jesus. They will help us better understand who He is and what He came to do.
The first sign is the cradle. Almost every American is aware of this one. Christmas is the birthday celebration of Jesus. Christmas is God’s present to us – it’s when He came to earth as Immanuel in order to communicate with us.
This reminds me of the story told about a farmer who decided to stay home from church on Christmas Eve while his wife and kids went to church. To him, the Christmas story was just a myth. As they left, he pulled out his newspaper, turned the TV on and settled in for a relaxing evening. As he glanced out the window, he noticed that it was beginning to snow so he threw another log on the fire. As he went back to his chair, he looked outside again and noticed a flock of birds flying around in the cold, windy, snowy night. As he looked more closely, he saw a couple birds fall and die because of the cold weather.
He grabbed his jacket and decided to run outside to see what he could do to help the birds. He opened up his barn and turned the heat on, hoping the birds would see the light and fly in. When that didn’t work, he grabbed a blanket and tried to chase them in. This only frightened them.
Suddenly, he realized that the only way to get them to come into his barn would be to somehow communicate with them. He wasn’t having any luck. He realized that the only way they would go into the barn is if another bird went first and showed them how to do it. It was then and there that the impact of this thought rocked him. This is what his wife had been trying to tell him for years. In order to bring a message to us, God needed to become one of us. The man jumped in his truck and drove off to church to be with his family. Finally, the impact of the Christmas cradle made sense to him.
There it is. That’s the Christmas story. As John 1:14 puts it: “The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us.”
This first sign was given to the shepherds by the angels in Luke 2:12: “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” Notice that they were given one sign – that the newly born babe would be swaddled and lying in a manger. There may have been other newborns wrapped up tightly in Bethlehem that night – but only one was lying in a feeding trough. That was their sign.
And so, the shepherds are called to the cradle. For many years I thought of them as a bunch of sleepy guys hanging out in the hills of Bethlehem taking care of some run-down sheep.
Just recently, I’ve discovered that these men were probably not ordinary shepherds. It’s quite possible that they were levitical priests who were in charge of the sheep that were being prepared for sacrifice in the temple. These sheep would have been without spot or blemish and would be very valuable. Those in charge of these sheep had a big responsibility to make sure that nothing bad happened to them – they needed to be ready to be sacrificed in Jerusalem’s temple only 5 miles away.