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TEXT: Luke 2:1-7
SUBJECT: Advent 2009 #2: Born in a Manger
The story unfolds during the reign of Augustus Caesar, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Augustus Caesar took the Imperial Seat in 27 B.C. and ruled until his death some forty years later. As for Quirinius? He served two terms, the first from about B.C. 7-3. The exact date is unknown to us, but was well known to Luke's first readers. It was the year they paid the Imperial Tax.
Why does Luke bring up these things? To let us know he's not writing a fable, or a fantasy. If he were, he'd start with "Once upon a time..." or "Long ago, in a galaxy far away..."
His story is more unlikely than anything in the Greek myths or in today's science fiction. But he won't be read that way! His story is factual; it really happened. At a real place in a real time. The time we have.
As for the place? It occurred in "The City of David, Bethlehem". The town is about six miles south of Jerusalem; it's called "The City of David" because the great king was born there. Why does Luke say this? To identify our Lord with the Royal House of David. The Baby born that day alongside the donkeys, cows, and chickens is
"David's Son and
Who's there for the birth? No one but His parents. Joseph, His legal father is "of the lineage of David". The Child, therefore, has claim to the Throne.
The mother is "Mary, his betrothed wife". The couple is engaged, but haven't been together yet. The child doesn't belong to Joseph; He belongs to God.
Mary goes into labor and bears a Son. He is wrapped up and placed in a crib. But it's not the sort of crib you'd expect. It's a feeding crib! A wooden box that farm animals eat out of.
Why is He put there?
"Because there is no room in the inn". The hotels are booked solid; the family beds down in a barn.
In that dirty, stinking, noisy barn, "The Word is made flesh". In Jesus Christ, God joins the human race.
What's the key word in our passage? If a pagan of that time read it, he'd say, "Caesar, of course". And why not? It was he who put an end to the civil wars that tore the Empire; it he who ruled in peace and justice; it was he who was called "Lord" and thought to be Divine. Is the passage about "Caesar"? No it isn't; he's a footnote in the Great Story.
If a Jewish patriot read it, he'd say, "Registered" or "Taxed". "Who do these dirty Romans think they are--taxing the people of God! When Messiah comes, we'll show `em who's boss!" But is that what it's about? Tax relief? Political freedom? Nope.
In fact, the key word in the story is "manger". The Church has romanticized it, but there's nothing precious about a manger. It's not a fit place for a baby to be laid. I wouldn't put my baby there; you wouldn't put your baby there...
...But God put His Baby there!
To identify with the human race in all its suffering. We tend to forget it, but most people are poor. That's true today; it was true then; it will remain true. "The poor you have with you...always".
With poverty goes a long list of other problems. Some of them are physical--like having a decent place to live. Some are mental--like going to a good school or speaking with a tacky accent. Some are psychological--like being snubbed by people better-off than yourself.
Some poor kids escape these things. But our Lord isn't one of them. "The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head". "How does this Man know letters, having never studied?" "Your speech betrays you". "We find this fellow..." "Fellow" is used like "Boy". Among friends, it's fine to use, but to call out to an adult--"Hey boy" is very insulting; very condescending. And that's what they called "The Man Christ Jesus".
In Jesus Christ, God identifies with us. "In all their afflictions, He was afflicted".
Including the big one. The death He chose was not a dignified one. He who entered the world surrounded by livestock, left it surrounded by criminals. Three crosses were set up: on two of them hung men guilty of theft, murder, and treason. On the middle cross hung the Son of God.
Remember: Like all His other pains, the cross was voluntary! "No man takes it from Me; I lay it down of Myself".
That is the meaning of the manger!
Your Savior was "made like [you], that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest...in that He Himself has suffered being tempted, He is able to aid [you when you] are tempted".
What does the Manger say to you?
It says "God understands". If you read books of theology, it won't be long before you come to a chapter on "Omniscience". It will say things like "God's knowledge is intuitive--and not learned; it is eternal--and not successive; it is exhaustive--and not partial; it is irrefragable--and cannot be forgotten".
Beautiful words. They speak to the heart of every twenty-three year old seminary student. But what about the forty year old woman who's sick with worry about her teenaged son? They say nothing to her!
But the Manger does. It tells her God has been there. He, too, spent lonely nights in agonized prayer. And "Sweat great drops of blood".
His "understanding is infinite" sang the Psalmist. It is that, of course, but it's more than that, too. It is felt. Do you have problems? He had them too. And felt them as keenly as you do.
--Can't pay your bills? "The Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head".
--Disappointed by friends? "All the disciples forsook Him".
--Family problems? It was His own brothers who said, "Let us lay hands on Him, He is beside Himself".
--Feel unappreciated? The mobs He healed, fed, and raised from the dead repaid Him by shouting, "Crucify Him!"
--Can't have kids? "Who shall declare His generation?"
--Lost a dear one? He once stood a by a tomb and "wept" so hard people said, "Behold! How He loved him!".
--Tempted by the devil? He was too, three times, under the worst circumstances possible.
--Dying? He became "obedient unto death, even the death of the cross".
God understands. His understanding is not that of a scholar who's read a thousand books on poverty, but has never been poor. It is a knowledge born of experience. Human experience in all its agony. That's one thing the Manger says.
The other thing is: You can take your problems to God in prayer. All of them--big and small. You won't be turned away. For God had the very same problems. Little problems--like running out of wine. Big problems--like being crucified. And every sized problem in-between.
When men "make it" in life, they're prone to forget what it was like before. The Proverb says this: "For three things the earth is perturbed... One of them is: "When a servant reigns".
This is normally true. But not always. And certainly not when it comes to Christ. His status has changed dramatically--from the cross to God's Right Hand. But His character is the same. When John fainted in His presence, He said, "Fear not, I am the First and the Last". "I'm the same Man you used to rest your head on". That's what He is--"This same Jesus".
The Man who once groaned Himself is eager to hear your groans. And able to do something about them. Therefore,
"Cast all your cares upon Him,
For He cares for you".
A magnificent church has been built over the birthplace of our Savior. I wish it hadn't been. For gold and purple and mahogany don't properly communicate Him to the world. It is the Manger than communicates Christ to us. For it is the manger, the barn, the livestock, that recall
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
How that, though He was rich,
Yet He became poor,
That we, through His poverty
Might be made rich".
God bring it to mind. For Christ's sake. Amen.
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