|The Nativity, by Norma Boeckler.|
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
The divinity of Christ is so clear throughout the Scriptures. The Messianic prophecies teach His divinity. We see it in His miraculous Virgin Birth, throughout His ministry, in His death and resurrection and His Ascension.
But today I would like to emphasize His humanity, since both Natures are united in Christ. His humanity is a constant source of great comfort, often forgotten when people feel weighed down by sin. Others feel ignored by God, although God knows and sees all.
KJV Luke 2:1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
This is human. No one can tax God, yet the family of Jesus had to trudge uphill to be taxed by Caesar Augustus. The Jewish Messiah was a subject of the Roman Emperor, certainly a great irony. But this had great implications for all people. By God's design, the Messiah was born in a corner of an civilization that reached across the world of that time, an empire that absorbed all the best from the ancient Greeks and other subject people. (Ancient history saying - The Romans had the drains, but the Greeks had the brains.)
Although this baby would be nothing in the eyes of the great, wise, and powerful, His ministry and message would be at the crossroads of history, the tipping point in time where His followers would be able to travel everywhere, and would be chased everywhere. In a small, closed country they would have been cornered and liquidated. Instead, they were spread across the continents, by roads and by sea.
If we wonder about God's compassion - what indignity did the Son of God not face? It began with the circumstances of His miraculous birth. If everyone had known - what a crowd of nobles and teachers would have been there. The entire village would have been blocked off by soldiers. But just the opposite was true. Our cul-de-sac knew more about the baby born a few months ago than Israel knew about Jesus' birth.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7 And 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.
The Christmas pageants spend a lot of time on the refusal of the innkeeper to take in the Holy Family, but it is revealed in a simple phrase here - no room at the inn. No room at the relatives? Nothing is said here, but one imagines many possibilities never realized. The Gospel is not warmly welcomed by everyone. Opposition and hatred is common. Sometimes it is just indifference.
Family members are often the cross to bear, especially when they have a religious background of sort. Our Asian friends were converted by evangelism, by a Billy Graham event in Hong Kong. Their families responded by saying, "You have deserted the culture and faith of your family." They were not congratulated but condemned.
When seminarians graduate and receive their first call, they find out that the old congratulations and blessings and gifts have turned into crosses to bear. If they are honest and faithful, that never stops. Luther said he seldom heard a kind word all his life, which is still true today. The non-Lutherans ignore his teaching and the Lutherans despise it. But he did not cling to popularity but the Word.
I always thought The Manger was altogether too soft and appealing in the pageants. Clearly this was in an area reserved for animals. This had to be a side area for sheltering the animals, not appealing to anyone. So the newborn was wrapped and placed in a feeding trough. I have seen those on a farm. The owner tears into a bale of hay and throws some in the feeding trough, where the food is soon chewed by the mules and cattle and horses.
But this is the key symbol of the Incarnation. Jesus the Son of God was wrapped up like any other baby, though born in the humblest circumstances. We are never so tiny and fragile again as we were as newborns. It is always a blessing to hold a newborn. They are light as feathers and rubbery for childbirth. The bones have yet to harden. Sleep overcomes them quickly. They look like strangers in this world, unused to the lights and sounds.
When I ask children about the Savior coming to us as a baby, they explain God's wisdom, "No one is afraid of a baby." So - here is the beginning of the Gospel - foretold in so many ways. The Savior is born. Not only is He human (which they did expect) but He is born in the humblest and most neglected circumstances.
Can He identify with our sorrows and difficulties? Yes. I have students who have been homeless from an accumulation of circumstances. One of them wants to work with the poor, because he has also suffered from the difficulties of life and wants to help with the Gospel.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
I have explored garden myths. A New Testament myth has this NOT happening in December. Some writers move from one assumption to another and declare an imagined truth. Then they mix in their lack of faith and voila - the Christmas story is celebrated December 25th to keep everyone from the pagan orgies of a Roman festival. As if - people said, "Are you going to the candlelight service or the orgy?"
But comical fantasies survive through repetitions.
The first witnesses of the birth of the Savior were working men, and they were given the blessing of the angelic host appearing before them. First one angel appeared, and that was frightening. The meaning of angel (Greek and Hebrew) is messenger. God used His angels to tell these working men about a great message, which is Ev-Angel in Greek - good news.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
The message is poetic and was probably used constantly as a catechism, a teaching passage. It is easy to remember and repeat. The Good News came to working men, not to academics, to priests, to nobles in the palace. Those are often the people who suppress and persecute the Gospel.
This is a scandalous message, to use the original meaning of scandal. The Greek word meant the trip mechanism in a trap. The Savior in a manger? No, so they walk away without believing. So the modernists are today. They have a thousand reasons for rejecting the manger and the cross.
But God has given us an eternal message of peace and hope - no earthly peace, but eternal peace and hope in God's Promises.
Luther included this message for those who build cathedrals and neglect the needy, good words in an era of cathedral building and naming -
59. It is altogether false to think that you have done much for Christ, if you do nothing for those needy ones. Had you been at Bethlehem you would have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since is now made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him. Should he come now and lay himself in a manger, and would send you word that it was he, of whom you now know so much, you might do something for him, but you would not have done it before. Had it been positively made known to the rich man in the Gospel, to what high position Lazarus would be exalted, and he would have been convinced of the fact, he would not have left him lie and perish as he did.
60. Therefore, if your neighbor were now what he shall be in the future, and lay before you, you would surely give him attention. But now, since it is not so, you beat the air and do not recognize the Lord in your neighbor, you do taut do to him as he has done to you. Therefore God permits you to be blinded, and deceived by the pope and false preachers, so that you squander on wood, stone, paper, and wax that with which you might help your fellow man.
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hochheilige Paar.
Holder Knabe im lockigen Haar,
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!
Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!