Manger. Cross. Throne.
The Nativity of Our Lord
December 24, 2017
And this will be the sign to you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.
There are many details you are familiar with in Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus. You know the Christmas story. You know the reason Jesus was born. It might seem that there’s nothing new here to see in this famous Bible passage. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe the whole point of it is that there’s nothing new to see. Maybe the point is that there’s only one thing to see and it’s the same thing you should see each time. It’s always the same thing and it will be forever.
The angel says to the shepherds, I am bringing good news to you of great joy for all people. To you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord in the city of David. And this will be the sign to you, you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. There is one sign the angel gives them. One thing for them to see, one thing to look for. The sign is a baby, a little baby wrapped up in cloths. A little baby who has no place to lay His head in but a manger.
A manger has come to be a romantic image for us, baby Jesus lying in a manger. But there was nothing romantic about a manger. A manger is a feeding trough for animals. And I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to spend too much time touching a feeding trough, let alone lie in it. Animals are messy when they eat. God created them to ingest things that would make us ill or even kill us. There’s nothing romantic about a manger. But that is what the shepherds were to look for, a baby lying in a manger.
When they found this baby all wrapped up and in a manger they would be seeing the one the angel proclaimed Him to be: the Savior, Christ the Lord. In all the world, in all the big cities, all the little towns, from the countryside to the uncivilized parts of the earth, there would be people just like those shepherds. People in sin. People longing for something greater than the life they lived in, where they continued to fall into the same mistakes, make the same dumb decisions, commit the same sins. Where they continued to be hurt by others and taken advantage of. Where they continued to suffer illness and the pains of injury and of growing old. In all the world, the shepherds would find right here in this spot, a manger, a baby wrapped up who was the Savior for all of those people. The deliverer from all of their sins and hurts and sorrows.
There is only one thing the angel pointed them to and that was a little baby. They pointed them to Jesus. Mary who had just given birth to Him wrapped Him up. Babies love to be wrapped up tight, being out in a cold world, far from the comfort of the womb. Mary and Joseph loved their newborn son. How much were they aware that the little baby they had wrapped up and laid in the manger to sleep was the very Lord of all creation? As Luke says, being adopted by Joseph, He was of the house and lineage of David, the great king of Israel. But Jesus was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. A king sits on a throne. But if a king pulls up a chair that becomes his throne. As Jesus lay sleeping all wrapped up in that manger, He was on His throne.
The wood of that manger would give way to a bed as Joseph eventually settled his family in a home of their own. But that bed would then give way to an itinerant life in His three year ministry. Jesus said of Himself, The Son of Man has no place to lay His head. He remained the King of the Universe. But He chose to be servant. The Son of Man has come not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. As the angel had said, Good news of great joy which is for all people. The wooden manger He had lain in as a baby gave way to a wooden cross that He would hang on. This was not fate. This wasn’t just Jesus not really ending up to be who He had said He was, or who the angel had said He was. This was Jesus choosing to be hanged on a cross to bring about the very promise of the angel and the thing Jesus had said about Himself, that He had come to serve and give His life as a ransom.
Even so, as Jesus hung there by nails that pierced His flesh, He was ruling on His throne. In suffering and dying for the sin of every person of every place He remained more than ever the King of all. Reigning for all people by saving them. He didn’t look like the Lord of the universe, but then neither did He when He had been all wrapped up and placed in a manger.
But the wood of the cross would give way to more strips of cloth, this time for the burial of His body. And the cold tomb would give way also as He rose from death and lives forever. His being on earth for a short time would give way to His eternal rule at the right hand of God, having ascended into heaven. And though He looked anything but the True God and Lord of all creation while here on earth, certainly His heavenly and eternal reign would do Him justice.
And yet, the throne He occupies we see in the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is an altar. If a manger is something that you certainly want to clean your hands after touching, and a cross likewise, an altar even more so. An altar is the place of sacrifice. The animals brought to the altar were slaughtered, their blood splattering and making a mess. And yet, it is the glory of God that the picture in Revelation shown us of Jesus Christ reigning on His throne is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The angel said that there was good news on that day. God was born. He was the Savior. He came not for the powerful, the wealthy, those on high. He came for everyone, high or low, powerful or weak. He came for you in your weakness, your sorrow, your sin. He started off in a manger and ended up on a cross. But in a manger and on that cross He reigned, not only because He is God but especially because He came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for all. What was true of the day Christ was born is true of all eternity. There is one sign. One thing we need to look to. It is Christ, first in the manger, especially on the cross, and for all eternity on the altar that is His throne, for He is always the Lamb of God who was slain, always the Savior who is Christ the Lord. Amen.