Christmas Eve                                
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:1-20 Sermon                                            
December 24, 2011

"O Come All Ye Faithful"
"O Little Town Of Bethlehem"
"It Came Upon The Midnight Clear"
"While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night"
"Angels We Have Heard On High"
"What Child Is This?"
"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"
"Silent Night"
"Joy To The World"


TEXT (vs. 6-7):  “6And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.  

            Every once in a while, you'll hear on the news about a baby being born in an unusual place.  And frequently, there is also a set of strange circumstances surrounding that birth.  Here are just a few that I came across:

            There was a woman in San Antonio who gave birth to her baby at a BBQ restaurant; there was a woman in New York who gave birth while her taxi was stuck in traffic at a tunnel tollbooth; and, there was a Utah woman who gave birth to her baby in the restroom of a local Wal-Mart.

            And then there are some that are even stranger still.  There was a woman in Africa who gave birth in a tree.  It seems that her family had climbed the tree to escape the floodwaters, and the baby was born.  When a helicopter came to rescue them, the umbilical cord was still attached.

            Then there was the McDonald's employee who had a sudden urge to use the restroom.  A few minutes later, she emerged with a baby boy.

            Of course there are others too.  One woman was taking the bus to the hospital when things started to happen.  So they stopped at a library, where her baby was born.  Or there was the woman who gave birth at the post office.  The new baby was weighed on the postage scale, where it was determined that it would cost $16.44 to send her first-class.

            Then there was the Wisconsin woman who gave birth just a few feet from the hospital door.  Airplanes have also seen births over the years.  And one of the more difficult births I would think happened to a woman in the driver's seat of her Volkswagen as she was driving herself to the hospital.  I understand that they named their daughter "Jetta."

            The birth that we are gathered here to celebrate tonight was another unusual birth under unusual circumstances.  Here was a baby born in a place used for sheltering animals.  He was wrapped in strips of cloth, and laid in a manger, which is a feeding trough used for animals.  If this were to happen today, it would probably make the list of unusual birthplaces, and we would hear about it as a human-interest story on the news.  But then, it would be soon forgotten, just like those other unusual birthplace stories.  They're interesting for a while, but then they just sort of fade away as other more important things happen.

            The events surrounding Jesus' birth are very familiar to us.  We just heard the Christmas story once again from Luke chapter 2.  We've heard it repeated over the years.  And even though the world changes and time passes, that story never changes.  Fortunately, it never grows stale or hackneyed.  It's the same old truth that is fresh for a new generation and a new day.

            The thing that I've often wondered about is captured in a single one-syllable word:  why?  Why a manger?  Why an animal shelter?  Why the adverse circumstances?

            We know that there are various things surrounding Jesus' birth that are of major importance.  He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin's womb, so this was no normal pregnancy right from the start.  His human ancestry would be from the line of King David.  He would fulfill every Old Testament prophecy regarding the Messiah.  But a manger?  Couldn't our Saviour have been born under at least some more favorable circumstances?  Couldn't Jesus still be the Messiah if he would have had a midwife to help in the birth and a comfortable bed in a warm place in which to lie?

            The first thing to remember here, is that Jesus is the only baby ever born to have actually chosen the circumstances of his birth.  That's right!  Jesus, being true God, begotten from eternity, had the ability to choose his mother, his earthly stepfather, when he would be born, and where he would be born.  The animal shelter and the manger were choices he made himself.

            In order to better understand the "why" of this situation, we turn to the words God the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded by the prophet Isaiah in chapter 53.  This is the portion of Scripture we call "The Suffering Servant" chapter.  Listen to verses 3-4: "3 He was despised and rejectedby men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted."

            This whole scenario of Mary and Joseph being turned away by the innkeeper and having to take refuge in the animal shelter is the very first instance of Jesus being rejected by the world.  This would be his lot in life right from the beginning.  Christ's rejection would follow him all the way to the cross, where he would receive the punishment for the world's sins.  He would be rejected by the Church leaders and councils, he would be rejected by the people of his home town, and even rejected by members of his own family.  Everywhere Jesus would turn, he would face rejection and hatred, even though there were many who loved him and accepted him.  Jesus would not have an easy life, and this marked the very beginning of it.  The unusual circumstances of Jesus' birth existed because of rejection.

            Okay, so we understand the rejection part of the manger.  But that still doesn't adequately answer the question of why.  Why this way, and not some other way?  What was so important about the manger?

            One of the things we know about God is that he is an all-powerful God.  Apart from denying his own existence, there isn't anything that God cannot do.  A God who can create an entire world out of nothing certainly has it in his power to make happen whatever he wants to have happen.

            Even though God's omnipotence is something we certainly recognize, it isn't the thing we focus upon.  God doesn't act arbitrarily simply because he can do it.  We need to remember that everything God does, he does according to his grace, or his undeserved love toward us.  The very presence of Jesus in this world is absolute proof of that love.

            Why did Jesus come to earth to be born in a lowly manger in faraway Bethlehem?  He came to live and die for our sins.   Jesus came here specifically to pay for each and every one of our sins so we could have God's undeserved grace and forgiveness and everlasting life.  Contrary to popular belief, we're not entitled to anything.  That's why God sent his Son into this world in the flesh.  In Christ, God was physically doing something about sin—our sin.  He was breaking into this fallen and sinful world and saving us from the bonds of sin, death, and the devil, using his only begotten Son as the ransom payment.  So look into that manger through your eyes of faith, and you will see the baby Jesus lying there.  That's God's plan of salvation, especially for you!  That's God's unconditional, undeserved gift of love in the flesh—for you, for me, and for the entire world!

            If you're like a lot of people, you send out Christmas cards and letters.  And most people keep a list of sorts with all of the names.  As you receive your cards, you tick off the names of those people who send you cards.  And when you send out your cards, you tick their names off as well.  So when it comes time to send out your cards, you look at that list.  Those who haven't sent to you in a few years tend to get dropped off the list.  It's a sort of give-and-take arrangement.  Giving gifts often works the same way.  I give you a gift, and I expect one in return.

            However this is not the way God works.  His love is unconditional.  God's love isn't extended to just those who love him in return.  Christ gave His life as an all-redeeming sacrifice for the whole world—even for those who hate him and despise him.  That's a gift that's truly unconditional and unmerited and given out of a love so pure and divine that nothing on earth can compare to it, nor is there any way that we can adequately comprehend it.

            So when we look at the manger, we see a clear example of God's love for mankind, and mankind's rejection of God.  It hardly seems fair, does it?

            But there's still more to it.  That manger was in an animal shelter.  Anybody could approach it and see the baby Jesus.  Just wind your way through the animals, and see him for yourself.  There was nobody standing guard at the door saying, "Mother and baby are sleeping now.  Don't disturb them.  Come back later." 

            Our Gospel from Luke chapter 2 talks about the shepherds watching their flocks in the hills surrounding Bethlehem.  The angels who announce his birth tell the shepherds that the baby Jesus is their Saviour; and that they would find him wrapped in swathing bands and lying in a manger.  So they not only could get to him unrestricted, but they were actually instructed to go to him.  They were invited to the manger to see Jesus, the Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  Then the angels sing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men."   

            We so often hear that word "peace" at Christmas.  It's God's will that we have this peace, which only he can give.  This doesn't mean that all crime and war and sickness and heartaches will suddenly end.  We still have to deal with this in the real world.  God's peace doesn't mean some sort of earthly or political peace.

            The peace God gives is the peace that comes from having our sins forgiven through faith in Jesus our Saviour.  We, who are troubled by our many sins that separate us from God, will find Jesus to be the true source of everlasting peace.  "Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled" is a phrase out of one of our favorite Christmas carols.  That sentence describes the peace of God that passes all human understanding.  That peace is ours through nothing more than faith in Christ alone.

            Satan works very hard at Christmas time to shift the world's focus away from Christ Jesus in the manger.  So we have to contend with Santa Claus, and shopping, and gifts, and decorating, and cooking, and baking.  We also have to share this time with the Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations. 

            And if that wasn't bad enough, we have a government and activists in our society that make bold attempts to take Christ out of Christmas, and basically stop the celebration all together.  The rejection of Christ that started back at the manger over 2,000 years ago continues on, right down to the present day.  And many people just blindly follow along.

            The good thing that has come of this however is that those of us who are Christians, who know and celebrate the real meaning of Christmas, have become more outspoken.  We don't want to lose Christmas in a sea of worldly passions and unchristian celebrations.  We want to keep Christ in Christmas, right where he belongs.

            Society will reject this.  We can expect it.  We know that people will mock us for our faith.  And Satan will continue to shift things away from the manger any way he can.  Because the baby Jesus is the one who has defeated Satan and rendered him powerless, he wants to keep the world from knowing Jesus, and otherwise work to destroy people's faith.

            When we are rejected by the world because of our Christian faith, we know that Jesus experienced rejection far beyond what we could ever imagine.  The rejection that began at Bethlehem's manger led him all the way to Calvary's cross. 

            So tonight as we come together to celebrate Christmas, we look at the manger.  But as we look at the manger, we do so through the cross.  We celebrate the fact that God loved us so much that he came to earth to live the perfect life we could not live, and to endure the rejection and punishment, and finally to die the death we by our sins deserve.  We celebrate the fact that God has given us the gift of faith by the Holy Spirit, so we could accept Christ through faith alone, and therefore we are completely reconciled with him.  We celebrate the fact that through Christ Jesus, heaven is a guaranteed future reality for us.

           I find it interesting that the word "manger" is from a French verb meaning, "to feed."  Listen to what Jesus says in John chapter 6 verses 35 and 58:  “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst....Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

            I also find it interesting that the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world chose to come to this earth and be born amongst the sheep and lambs in that stable so long ago.  Jesus came to this earth also as the Good Shepherd for the eternal good of people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand.  

            The Christmas story is familiar to us.  It is sentimental, emotional, and very real.  So why the manger?  In spite of mankind's rejection, God continues to show his divine grace to all people.  Jesus is open to everybody in the entire world; there's nothing standing in the way.  From the lowliest of people to the highest nobility, salvation is found only through faith in the baby lying there, in that simple lowly manger.