Luke 2:8-20, Phil. 2:6-8 — LYING IN A MANGER
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on December 18, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – 12/18/11.
In the year that Jesus was born, there was one Lord and Savior, and everyone knew who he was: Caesar Augustus, who had by his administrative and military talents brought peace on earth and, if not goodwill, at least quietness among men. A world tired of chaos and ready for relief lauded and worshiped Augustus as the high and mighty one. Sure, he was dangerous to disappoint, and sure, he pushed people around, especially in the outer provinces, but that’s just how gods and kings are.
Unless it isn’t.
“You will find the baby…lying in a manger…” The angels announced the birth of a king who wasn’t born in a royal setting. He was born to an unwed mother from out of town, in the back of somebody’s spare room, and put into an animal feed-trough. The first folks to visit him weren’t ambassadors or princes or community leaders, or reporters, or even excited friends and relatives…they were migrant workers who wandered in from the fields. A king’s birth couldn’t get much less prestigious than that.
We see supremely in this story what we have seen hints of throughout Scripture: God’s willingness to embarrass himself, in order to reach humanity. God comes down to our level to rescue us. He doesn’t reach down from on high, offer some suggestions or commands, wave a threatening fist, and then depart. (You know how depressing it is, to receive “help” from someone who is far away and preachy.) He comes into the world identifying with the poor, the distressed, those who don’t have what it takes, those who (like Mary and Joseph) get ordered around by the high-and-mighty ones.
Jesus, throughout his life, reached out to those on the margins: women, the sick, and the demon-harassed. He showed compassion to those who had failed. He hung out with sinners even though it made him look bad. He hung out with humans! (Who knows what that did to his reputation among cosmic powers?) He allowed himself to be completely misunderstood by the “good people” of his day. In order to save us from the hole we’ve individually and collectively gotten ourselves into, the high and holy one laid aside his royal glory and jumped right down into the hole with us. The one through whom all things were made, became a newborn who couldn’t even hold his own head up without help. It’s the kind of behavior we can’t wrap our minds around, except sometimes in poetry, like Paul does in his letter to the Philippians:
Christ, being God in his very nature,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped onto;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Christmas leads to the cross. The helplessness of the baby leads to the helplessness of a naked man nailed to a pole, with his enemies taunting “He saved others, but he can’t save himself! If you’re the Son of God, get yourself off that cross!”
The religious and political “lords” of Jesus’ time eventually killed this Lord and Savior, executing him as priests and politicians have killed many, many powerless people. They crucified him, a disgusting, humiliating form of death that was unconsidered impolite even to mention in everyday conversation. They thought they’d finished him off, but it was actually the culmination of God’s loving mission to come down to our level in order to raise us up to his.
At Advent we pause to meditate on this strange miracle. We who struggle, we who know our own weakness and powerlessness, and our own meanness and failure, all too well, are invited to come with the shepherds, to find a Savior who has come all the way to a manger in order to rescue us.