"God's Love In A Manger"
Luke 2:8 - 20
(Delivered Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24, 2003 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
I'd like to draw your attention tonight to a very familiar story. I hope that you never tire of hearing it. Luke, in the second chapter of his Gospel, tells us the story of the wonderful night of our Savior's birth to Mary; and then he writes,
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe ...
Stop! Before I read what that sign is, put yourself in the place of those shepherds. If you had been one of them that night, and saw the night sky suddenly light up with the bright glory of heaven breaking through; and you heard the voice of a mighty angel announcing to you that he was bringing good tidings of great joy which will be to all people - that the long awaited Savior, the Messiah, was now at last born into this world; and you heard the angel say that if you go to see this new - born Messiah, you would be able to recognize Him by a particular sign ... what might you naturally expect that sign to be?
This Baby is the eternal Son of God in human flesh. His birth on earth is being announced by heaven itself. Wouldn't you naturally expect the sign to be that they'd find Him in a glorious palace? Or wouldn't you expect to find Him surrounded by angels? Wouldn't you at least expect a holy glow to encompass Him, and heavenly majesty to radiate from Him? If those were the signs, you would guess that He would be rather easy to find. But as I'm sure you already know, that's not how He was to be found. Instead, the angel said,
"And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
Imagine! The shepherds were to look for this Baby - announced by a mighty angel - by poking around in animal stalls, and looking for a Newborn in a manger!
Do you know what a manger was? Many folks, who have grown up with the images of Christmas that they gained from Christmas cards and paintings, think that "the manger" was that charming building that the Christmas scene occurs in - and there in the center of "the manger scene" was the Baby in that cute wooden cradle. But no. For one thing, the chances are that the actual Christmas scene didn't look anywhere near as sanitized as the paintings suggest; and for another, the "manger" itself was actually the thing that the Baby was placed in after birth. It was the last thing in the world that any brand new mother would have wanted her tiny newborn baby to be placed in; because a "manger" was nothing more than a common feeding trough - a dirty, smelly box that donkeys and sheep and goats stuck their hairy, snotty, slobbery faces into to lick up and snort down their feed.
Now think of that! When the angel Gabriel was sent by God to announce to Mary that she would bear this Baby, he told her, "... Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end" (Luke 2:31 - 33). And not only did the angel tell her then that her Baby was the long awaited King who was promised from the linage of King David; but he also told her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (v. 35).
He was not only the long - awaited Messiah/King, but He was - in very fact - the eternal Son of God come to this earth in human flesh! And yet, out of all the things that could have been a sign that would identify Him to the shepherds, it was that they would find Him in a condition so humble and seemingly inappropriate, that it would be a sure sign to them that it was Him. They would find Him in something that shepherds - animal-feeding professionals - would have known very well to be a very humble situation: "You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
I suggest to you that this proposed "sign" came as a shock to the shepherds. And as we read on, we find that there was no command from the angel, "Now; go and find this Baby - the Son of God in human flesh - and quickly get Him into a more worthy situation. Get Him into the nursery of a palace! Or get Him into one of the nicest rooms in the temple!" Instead, what follows this shocking announcement of unprecidented humility is this:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
* * * * * * * * * *
So, there they would find the Savior - as we sing in the carol, "... in such mean estate / where ox and ass are feeding". And this was meant to convey something to you and me. It's meant to communicate to us the depth of the Savior's condescending love. It's meant to show us how far down into the depths of our need God's Son was willing to stoop in order to save us. The angels were there in attendance; and He surely could have been born to Mary while surrounded by the ministering hosts of heaven and cradled in majestic glory. But He wasn't. His first place on this earth was a humble feeding trough. And He didn't grow up in a palace in Jerusalem; but instead grew up in a poor family in a very humble town called Nazareth. And He didn't live in luxury and comfort, but had to confess, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head" (Luke 9:58).
How far down was He willing to condescend for us? The Bible tells us of Jesus Christ;
... who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil. 2:6 - 11).
He was placed in a humble manger of wood at His birth for us; and He would later be crucified on a humiliating cross of wood at His death for us. That's how far down He would go in condescending love for us. He came to this earth in a humble manger; so that He could take us to heavenly glory. He came growing up in a poor family; so that we could become the children of His heavenly Father. He walked on earth with no place to lay His head; so that He could prepare a place for us in His Father's house. He died on a cross for us sinners; so that we could live forever with Him.
That's condescending love. And we see just a hint of it in that marvelous announcement; "You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." The manger is a reminder to us of how much He was willing to give up for us, and of how far down He was willing to stoop to save us.
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Luke goes on to say;
So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
As you and I give our attention tonight to the Savior's birth and - like the shepherds - behold this thing that the Lord has made known to us, let's remember what is being communicated to us in those words, "You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." What's being communicated to us is the condescending love of the Savior for us - love which would move Him to leave His heavenly glory and be born into this world of sin as one of us, so that He could die for our sins and allow us to share in His glory.
Let's consider that love. Let's ponder it in our hearts. And like those shepherds, let's glorify God and praise Him for all the things that have been told us.
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