Luke 2:1-20 – “The Manger Seen”
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.
Dear friends in Christ:
Our Christmas Eve tradition at St. Paul’s is to have a children’s sermon at the early service. At that service I always give the kids a gift. This year, the gift was this magnetic nativity scene.
The individual characters of this scene come apart, which is good. That way the kids can play with them. This also reminds us that the birth of Jesus was not a static event—one particular scene, forever fixed in time. That’s good, because one scene does not tell the whole story. To understand the story, one must also know what happened before the birth, and after. The birth happened within a particular context. Journeys had taken place to get there. After the birth, new journeys would commence. People would grow. More would be said.
There’s a particular feature of this nativity scene that leads us to think in this direction. This scene is given a title. The magnet on the top says: “The manger seen” – and the word seen is spelled s-e-e-n. It’s a play on words. Playing is good! But there’s also a point. Somebody had to see that scene and record it. We’re thankful for those who described what they had seen and passed it on. Now we may see it too. And once we’ve seen the manger scene, we are forever changed by it.
Let’s do some more thinking on this.
What is it about the manger scene that tugs at our hearts with such power? Why does it have such an effect on us? Why do people put them in their yards? Why do they appear on our trees, on our cards, as our gifts? I suppose it’s probably a number of things.
The manger scene is mom, dad and the kid, together. Who doesn’t yearn for that picture?
My mom is no longer with us because she has gone to heaven. I miss her. My kids are around, but not as much as before. They’re out doing their thing – which is great, but I miss those days when they were younger.
The manger scene causes us to think wistfully about our family. Even if our family wasn’t all that good, the manger scene holds out an ideal that we wish we could have had. Mom, dad and the kid… together, watched over by an angel. Who isn’t touched by that picture?
In a day and age when everything seems to be about the individual, the picture of a family together tugs at our hearts. There’s a truth and honesty about that picture which transcends our desire to go it alone. There’s a calling in that scene which we recognize as good and right.
The manger scene tugs at our hearts… for these reasons… and for others as well.
For instance, everyone is happy at the manger. They’re all glad to be there. Who among us couldn’t use a little more happiness? Who among us doesn’t wish their gatherings were ones of joy? Don’t we wish our job sites could resemble that happy picture… everyone working together in unity? Don’t we wish our neighborhoods were like that? Our schools? Our country? The manger scene awakens in us a desire for joy and peace, and renews in us a hope that these may be found.
At the manger, people come and visit. They bring songs in their hearts and gifts from afar. Don’t we wish for that too? Yes, I know… visits can be a mixed bag. It’s not always easy or convenient to host. There’s cooking and cleaning to do, sharing of space, finding the right activities, putting up with different personalities, styles, habits and opinions of our guests. We’re not always up for that. At the same time, shouldn’t we be up for it more than we are? Isn’t it good to know that someone wanted to visit us… that someone cares or finds us interesting or even just needs us? The manger shows people coming together: parents, shepherds, wise men, angels. Who is it in our life? The manger scene reminds us that surprises can be good. It reminds us that new people, and renewed acquaintances, can enrich our lives.
And then there’s the baby. Who doesn’t love a baby? Mary and Joseph had been awfully nervous about their baby. And yet by the time the baby was due they were ready… as ready as one can be. Even a birth during travel and accommodations in a make-shift nursery couldn’t quell their joy.
We see this picture of Jesus in the manger and think about the births of our own children, and all the worries and challenges we faced. And we see this picture of Jesus and think about how God can bring peace out of chaos, joy out of pain, comfort with just the basics.
There is so much that we see in the manger scene. Much more than just Jesus and his family and friends. Which should actually… give us some pause.
It’s wonderful that the manger scene takes us so many places. But only as long as we also see its primary message.
Earlier, we read the story of Jesus’ birth as seen by St. Luke. Amid the details of the story we hear the angels tell us that this child is a Savior—one who is Christ the Lord. This past Sunday we read about the birth as seen by St. Matthew. Matthew records words by another angel—the one who speaks to Joseph. This angel tells us the child’s name shall be Jesus – meaning Savior—and that this name shall be given him because “he shall save his people from their sins.”
The birth of Jesus is so beautiful and so moving because he is our Savior—the one who saves us from our sins.
Christmas comes near the end of the calendar year. In the coming days, our news and media sources will circulate articles which look back at the year just completed to list its highlights and summarize its content. Included in those lists and summaries will be incidents of sin. Many of them. There will be mentions of murders, thefts, rapes, acts of terror, lying, corruption, hatred, abuse. Some of these will be agreed upon as certain facts. Others will be contested and debated. Still others will be listed without any judgment or implication of wrong—but recognized as sin by those who know the Word of God.
Amidst the debates about which words and actions were sin and which ones weren’t, one fact will remain obvious: there is great sin in the world. People are hurting one another. And they’re failing to help. There is no debate on this.
As such, the world needs a Savior.
Today, we remember that Jesus came into the world to be our Savior. Let me give a simple explanation of how he saves.
Jesus saves the world in two ways. First, he makes the world better. He gives a Law that teaches a better way. He inspires through His words. He heals through his presence. He teaches us to forgive. He connects us to God. He builds disciples and empowers congregations to be families of faith that work together for good. The list of ways Jesus makes this world better could go on and on.
But Jesus is a Savior in a second way, too. He saves us from having to battle sin forever.
In this life, we will need to do battle with sin. We will need to battle its impulses in our own lives. We will need to battle its effects when others sin against us. We will need to battle the sadness and threat of despair that arises because of its presence and its consequences.
The battle is difficult. In fact, it’s unwinnable… in this life. God has given people the ability to choose… and people will continue to choose sin.
But God has also sent us a Savior. Jesus saves us from the eternal consequences of our sin.
Someday our life on this earth will be over. We will breathe our last and then sleep in the grave until Christ comes again to usher in the new age. Those who battled sin in faith will be rewarded for their faith. Those who claim Jesus as their Savior will live on—in the heavenly home prepared for us now and in the New Creation that awaits.
God has sent us a Savior. His salvation came into the world when Jesus was born, so long ago. It also comes today, as Jesus is born into our hearts through the gift of faith.
How blessed we are by the manger seen! It reminds us of both the means of our salvation and what our salvation looks like. It is a picture of peace, of joy, of contentment, of holiness. It is a picture of what God intends, and what God will bring about.
“Unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” May that manger seen, continue to inspire you through the battles of this world, until you see him face to face. In the name of Jesus. Amen.