2012 Christmas V: God in the MangerDecember 23rd, 2012 • Posted in Christmas, Luke's Gospel, Messages/Sermons • 289 views
GOD IN THE MANGER
Key Verses: 2:11,12
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
On almost every Christmas worship service, I would say “Merry Christmas!” in many different languages because the birth of the Messiah is good news for all people. However, for a while I stopped doing it because it didn’t sound authentic and I actually don’t speak any other languages except English and Korean. So today, I am going to ask a number of people to say “Merry Christmas!” in their own native language. “Sheng Dan Kuai Le!” (Mandarin-Chinese), “Feliz Navidad!” (Spanish), “Joyeux Noel!” (French), “Selamat Hari Natal!” (Indonesian), “Sung Tan Chuk Ha!” (Korean), “Z Rizdvom Khrystovym!” (Ukraine), “Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!” (Polish), “Pozdrevlyayu s prazdnikom Rozhdestva s Novim Godom!” (Russian), “Froehliche Weihnachten!” (German), “Maligayang Pasko!” (Filipino), “Kurisumasu Omedeto!” (Japanese), “Buono Feste Natalizie!” (Italian), “Kala Christouyenna!” (Greek). “Merry Christmas!”
These days, we see there is more sadness than joy in the world. So many people in the world suffer because of poverty, sickness and natural disasters. Many parts of the world are ruled by injustice and violence. Life in this world isn’t easy for anybody. Life is full of stress. Knowing there are many people who do not know when their next meal will be, it’s hard to celebrate Christmas in a joyful and meaningful way. Giving donations to charities or looking after those who are in physical, emotional and spiritual need is very good. However, we often feel we are totally powerless in the face of the world’s problems, not to even mention our own personal problems. If that wasn’t enough, we recently experienced a horrible tragedy in Connecticut. I see several people, including Christians, ask questions like “What is God doing in the world today?
By the time of Jesus’ birth, the world was dark and depressing. Yet, in the night of Jesus’ birth, the angel appeared to several shepherds and gave the good news, saying “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Today, let us think about what God in the manger and Christmas means to us.
Look at verses 1-3. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.” We live in a democratic country. The principle of democracy is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” But Rome wasn’t run by the principle of democracy. At the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus was the emperor of Rome. He worked hard to establish a solid political and financial infrastructure, promising peace and prosperity to the people of the world through strong military power. Yet, his promise proved to be false. By the time of Jesus’ birth, Caesar Augustus issued a decree to take a census of the entire Roman world. And everyone went to his or her own town to register.
Look at verses 4 and 5. “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.” The distance from Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea was about 70 miles, which was no short distance for any pregnant woman to travel. If it were not for the census, Joseph and Mary wouldn’t have come to travel such a long distance to Bethlehem. Apparently Caesar Augustus had reason to raise taxes and account for the number of available fighting men for the draft. But God used it to bring Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem at the right moment so the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth would be fulfilled. It says in Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Here we see that even though it was Caesar Augustus who issued the decree, it was actually God who orchestrated all these things according to His timetable.
Look at verses 6 and 7. “While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” Apparently, as Joseph and Mary came close to Bethlehem, Mary began to have birth pains. As parents, Joseph and Mary wanted to provide the best for their baby. Yet, Joseph could not find a room for her. It wasn’t because Joseph couldn’t afford a decent room for we know he was a middle class carpenter rather the rooms were all occupied with travelers. Yet, thank God someone offered them a humble stable or cave, which provided a small shelter for Mary to deliver the child. Their trip to Bethlehem must have been very tiring. They could have complained about their stress and lack of provision. But they didn’t. It was because they were able to see God’s invisible hand of protection and provision.
It was a silent and holy night when the Messiah of the world was born. It was truly marvelous work of God. Yet no one knew what God was doing in their midst. Look at verses 8-10. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” What could be good news for these poor shepherds? Definitely, a good and high paying job would be good news for them. Or the destruction of their enemy would be good news to the Jews, but not to the Romans. The last couple of weeks, students had finals. Some of them are anxiously waiting for their final grades. Getting “A”s, or at least “A-“s would be good news for them. “B+”s? Not so good but it’s better than “B-“s. Yet, this is very temporary. Interestingly enough, the angel announced not just “good news” but “good news” that will cause great joy for all the people. It almost sounds overly exaggerated. Where is such good news that will cause great joy for all the people? What is the content of this good news that will cause great joy for all the people?
Read verses 11 and 12. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths laying in a manger.” Here, we see that the content of this good news is the birth of a Savior. What does this Savior save us from? Well, some people might say, “I don’t need a Savior! I am perfectly fine! Or “I can handle it by myself.” It’s nothing but an illusion. Why? It’s because we, without exception, are under the bondage of sin and many types of problems. Some problems are not caused by our mistakes. They are inherited from our ancestors. It’s hard to overcome them. Many children live unhappy lives because of their broken family situations. Some people’s hearts seem too broken and emotionally damaged to be restored. There aren’t miracle drugs or medications to fix our problems. There seems to be no perfect human system that can make everyone happy. After all, no matter how successful, good and strong we may be, we will eventually get old and die. Some people will die unexpectedly and too young. Hebrews 9:27 reads, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” We truly need a Savior, the Savior who can truly save us from the bondage of sin and eternal death, which is the separation from God. But the good news is that God had come to his people to save them from their sins and misery.
How does this Savior save us from our sin and death? It’s precisely through Jesus’ death on the cross. If we have to define the purpose of Jesus’ coming to this world in one sentence or one word, what would that be? What is the most crucial work of the Messiah? The most crucial work of the Messiah is his sacrificial death for our sins, the atonement. Through his death on the cross, Jesus paid the debt of our sins and opened the way for us to heaven. In his great pain and agony of death on the cross, Jesus cried out in a loud voice and prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34) And as he breathed his last, he also said, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30) If Jesus didn’t die for our sins, he cannot be our Messiah.
We celebrate Christmas every year. What is your Christmas story? What are you celebrating this Christmas? I find it very interesting that we actually say “Merry Christmas!” Do you know what the word “Christmas” means? The actual meaning of the word “Christmas!” is different from what most of us think it is. Most people think the word, “Christmas” means “the birth of Christ.” But surprisingly enough, according to the Encyclopedia, the word “Christmas” comes from “Cristes Maesse”, an early English phrase that means “Mass of Christ.” The word “Mass” is a religious term used by the Roman Catholic Church that means a “death sacrifice.” So when we say “Merry Christmas!” we are saying “Merry the death of Christ!” If Jesus didn’t die for our sins on the cross, his incarnation and even his ministry have no real meaning to us. His coming isn’t really good news of great joy to any of us. When we think about the death of our loved ones, we become very sad. But when we think of Jesus’ death on the cross for our sins, we have life in us. He said in John 6:54, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” So whenever we say “Merry Christmas”, we are reminded of Jesus’ sacrificial death for the grace of forgiveness of sins.
Look at verse 12. “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” It was a surprise that the sign of God’s salvation should be found in the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger and not in the Temple of Jerusalem. In fact, if God wanted, He could have let the baby Jesus be born in a completely different way, either in a palace or big hospital. It seems, however, God chose to let baby Jesus be born in a humble manger. A manger was a trough for feeding animals. I heard that at that time in the Middle East, mangers were more likely carved out of rock. The Lord Jesus’ first bed was a manger. In today’s passage, Luke mentions the manger three times (7,12,16). In verse 12, the angel told the shepherds that the manger is a sign from God. We will think more about it later.
Why did God give this kind of sign to us? There can be many reasons. One main reason might be that God wants us to know that His way of working for our salvation is different from the way this world operates. In fact, Saint Luke, contrasts the baby in the manger with Caesar Augustine on the throne. We are often motivated by the ambition for power and glory. But when we follow those glamorous signs, we often end up in the wrong place with many regrets. As history attests, the kings and the kingdoms of the world are temporal and cannot give us true joy or peace. Huge corporations, business executives, world leaders or systems do not necessary give peace and joy to all people. But our God who is almighty works in a very different way. The baby Jesus in the manger, who looked absolutely vulnerable, is in actuality full of life. He is Immanuel – God with us. He is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). It’s truly amazing that God came to this world as a baby in a manger.
Look at verses 13-14. “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests.” It didn’t say that the heavenly host sang. But Handel, a German born British composer, was so moved by the great wonder of God’s glory that he composed a choir piece based on verse 14, “Glory to God, glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth.”
Look at verses 15-20. When the angel had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. They were eyewitnesses of the Messiah’s birth. They probably embraced baby Jesus with their arms and praised God for His great mercy and faithfulness. And they spread the words concerning the baby, who was born to be the Savior. It was their Christmas story that Saint Luke recounts.
When we face the cold and harsh reality of the world, we don’t understand many things. We often ask, “Where is God when it hurts?” Many things we don’t know. We don’t have a final answer. But we do know that our God is not just sitting on His throne in heaven, watching us until we perish. He came as a baby in a manger. Jesus’ life on earth started in the humble manger and ended on the cross. Jesus’ life was full of suffering and pain even though he was completely sinless. Baby Jesus in the manger reveals that our God is a suffering God. When we suffer, He is actually suffering with us, even though we are not aware it. When we see Jesus on the cross, we see God who suffers for us. It is God who suffers the most.
We are forgiven from all our sins through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. Jesus also defeated the power of death through his resurrection. And he ascended into heaven and will come again. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. We also know that in all things He works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose (Ro. 8:28). He will never fail us. We, along with all the creatures in the universe, are eagerly waiting for his Second coming, the day of our glorious liberation from our bits of bondage. That day will be a most glorious and fantastic day. Our joy will be complete and last forever and ever. Now, we know that no matter what circumstances we may be in, if Jesus is born in our hearts, we are truly blessed and have eternal life. We know what Christmas truly means. It’s celebration of Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins. Those who accept Christ can have the true joy of Christmas. Let’s celebrate Christmas with great joy and share this joy with others. May we read our key verse, verses 11 and 12 once more: “Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.”