by Rev. Robert Griffith
“And while they were there, the time came for the baby to be born. And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. And she wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7)
But why? Why did it happen like that? Why all this? Why are you here? Why do millions of people still gather like this across the world today to recount a very strange story. Familiarity, much loved songs, nativity pageants and Christmas cheer have sanitised and romanticised this story – but take off the colourful Christmas wrapping and we find a very strange, illogical and somewhat messy story - but a story which still stops the world on this day every year. Who would have thought, in this modern, enlightened, intellectual, technological age … that mature, thinking people would still be recounting, with wonder, a story full of nobodies from nowhere thousands of years ago in a place most of us will never see? A story who’s central character is a baby who says nothing and does nothing in this narrative other than just be born in a messy barn or cave or stable – none of us know for sure what it was … it was most likely a cave where the animals were kept – so the one thing we do know for sure – it was messy!
Why did this happen and why do millions of us still remove ourselves from the modern world and step back into this haunting little narrative which is well over 2,000 years old now? Why do atheist and agnostic music artists grace the stage at Carols By Candlelight and with tears in their eyes, sing about this Christ-child and the salvation He brings to all humanity? Why? Well I hope your presence here today indicates you already know why … but just in case you’ve forgotten … just in case this annual pilgrimage has become more of an ‘ought to’ than a ‘want to’ … just in case the reason for this season has been overwhelmed by everything else this crazy world dumps on us this time every year ... let me remind you of the world-changing, life-transforming power and truth which lies at the heart of this very special day.
God had this plan, a very messy plan, a plan to save mankind from our own stupidity and rebellion, and to do that He was going to send His Son. Where does the God of the universe send His only Son? Where does the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords come? He comes to a smelly cave and into a manger, a feeding trough, of all places! Certainly no place fit for a king. But then again, this wasn’t an ordinary King. Now when I say it was messy, I mean it was messy. It was a stable where they kept the animals and so this baby came into the world surrounded by smelly animals and animal ‘stuff’ – you know - manure and mud and … the smell. Well let’s just say it was not the smell of roasting turkey and cranberry sauce. In fact, this smell would put you off Christmas dinner forever! A truly pitiful place for any person to be born, much less the King of Kings! So why would God do that?
Well, I can’t tell you for sure, because the prophet Isaiah tells us that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways. There is an element of mystery in many of the things God has done. But that same prophet Isaiah said:
“All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us have turned to our own way and the Lord has laid on Him (this tiny baby in this smelly stable)the sins of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
You see, Jesus came to a messy place. An animal-filled stable, well, yes that’s messy. But He also came to a very messy world. Why? Because the Shepherd was coming to take care of His sheep and to prepare a way for His sheep to go home. And how does a good shepherd do that? He lives where the sheep live, he sleeps where they sleep and he eats where they eat. Now later in His life, that got Jesus in trouble. But why did Jesus eat with the sinners and hang around with the no-hopers? Because that’s what a shepherd does – he leaves none behind. So an angel appeared to the shepherds in the field and said “This will be a sign to you. You will find the babe wrapped in cloth lying in a manger.” A sign. Do you ever wonder what that sign really was … a sign for what? Maybe it was a sign that Jesus is accessible toeveryone. A sign that the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills can relate to a homeless person. Because for the final years of Jesus’ life and ministry, He was homeless. He never had a place to rest his head.
Maybe it was a sign that God would not relate to the social status of men and woman in any way. A sign that He detests the ‘splendour’ of humans, because even our best is not worthy of Him. So perhaps entering our world through a dirty, messy cave full of animals said more about God than we ever imagined. God becoming human to redeem all humans is what we call the Incarnation. Emmanuel. God with us and it was an amazing sign all those years ago, but it’s also a sign for us today – right here in our own part of the world and in this chapter of our earthly journey – a sign that we should follow our Lord in this incarnational ministry. In fact, the apostle Paul would later write in his letter to the Church in Philippi:
“We should have the same attitude of Jesus Christ, who being in the very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, becoming a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:5-7)
You see being a servant is messy and Jesus set this incredible example for us from the very moment of His birth. But He didn’t just start His earthly journey like this … He remained in ‘servant’ mode His whole life. At one point we find this King of Kings, this Lord of Lords, this Creator and Sustainer of the universe on His knees washing the filthy feet of those He came to save. The God of the universe, the God who deserved the best of everything - on His knees – washing tinea, dirt and cow manure off the feet of those who should be on their face worshipping Him. Now that’s messy, but it’s also beautiful … and it shows us God’s heart.
Our God is the God who came right into our world and was laid in a manger, a feeding trough of all places. Why such a messy place? Because He was following a messy plan to redeem God’s precious children who had gotten themselves into a right royal mess since those precious days in the Garden of Eden when we would walk with God in the cool of the evening and enjoy unencumbered intimacy, love and harmony with each other and our God. So needless to say that very first Christmas was dirty…it was grimy…it was filthy. But we must thank God this morning that it was, because without that messy plan, without God’s messy entrance into humanity … we would all be in a much, much bigger mess right now! The reason this story still stops the world this day, is because the reality beneath this story is the only hope for humanity. The only hope. Let’s pray.
Lord God, we thank you that we have made it through another year, a very tough year for some of us, but we are here and we are thankful. But Lord, our songs, our prayers, our worship and our presence in this building today are not that impressive to You and not the main reason you have been looking forward to this day more than all of us.All You want this Christmas Lord is the same thing you have always wanted – every day – our trust and our faith to take You at Your Word and believe the truth Your Holy Spirit has brought to us again in song and word and prayer this morning. I simply pray Lord that before each of our heads hit the pillow this Christmas night, there will be a time for us all to respond to the question, “How then shall I live, in light of what my God has revealed to me this day?” And may You give us the courage to face that question and then expect to encounter You powerfully and personally, as we explore that answer in the new year which lies ahead. Amen.
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